Water-Men, Terrible and Bad

By David Reigle on May 12, 2016 at 6:43 pm

(continued and concluded)

The water-men, terrible and bad, were not dense physical men like those of today, as The Secret Doctrine tells us. The immediately preceding verse from the Book of Dzyan, verse 4, gives the time explained as the first of “the seven geological changes which accompany and correspond to the evolution of the Seven Root-Races of Humanity,” and at the beginning of the fourth Round (SD 2.47). Dense physical humanity would not appear until the middle of the third root-race, eighteen million years ago, while “the first Root-Race was as ethereal as ours is material” (SD 2.46; see also 2.156). This was in accordance with the ethereal state of our globe at that time, since “man’s organism was adapted in every race to its surroundings” (SD 2.46). Hence, the water-men would have left no physical traces. Moreover, they would have preceded even the ethereal first root-race. They are not described in our history books because the time when they lived was pre-history, and the only records we now have of pre-history are myths.

The two stories that involve water-men given earlier from the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, “Ocean of the Streams of Story,” are useful to this inquiry only insofar as they preserve the idea of water-men, and provide Sanskrit names for water-men from among many possibilities. The Sanskrit names they use are jala-mānuṣa and jala-pūruṣa (and these forms rather than jala-manuṣa and jala-puruṣa). These stories, even as myths that might preserve dim memories or echoes of the past, would not pertain to the prehistorical water-men described in the Book of Dzyan.

The account given by the Babylonian priest Berossos is in quite a different category. It purports to be based on very ancient records, much like the Book of Dzyan. Like the Book of Dzyan, the Babylonian account is said to have come from a divine instructor, a being who is not of earth’s humanity. Only such a being could know the (pre-)history of our globe prior to the time of humanity. Such beings are said, both in the Babylonian account and in the Book of Dzyan, to have taught infant humanity all the arts and sciences necessary for civilization, and also the (pre-)history of our globe. The Babylonian account provides us with the only parallel source to the Book of Dzyan so far found on the time of the water-men, terrible and bad. It will therefore be worthwhile to see what has been learned about this account since Blavatsky quoted it in 1888 from an 1832 translation.

The history of Babylonia by Berossos (written about 280 B.C.E.) remains lost. The book by Greek historian Alexander Polyhistor (who lived circa 105 to 35 B.C.E.) that quoted or summarized it remains lost. The book by historian of the Christian church Eusebius (who lived circa 260 to 340 C.E.) that quoted or abridged it from Polyhistor, remains lost. The account by Berossos has reached us in the book by Byzantine Christian historian George Syncellus (written 808-810 C.E.) that quoted it from Eusebius. This is the source that Isaac Preston Cory translated it from in his 1832 Ancient Fragments, which is the source that Blavatsky used. Thus, for the Babylonian account by Berossos we have no new source material. We now have newer editions of the Greek text and newer English translations of it,1 although these do not substantially differ from the 1832 edition and translation by Cory.

In the case of the very fragmentary Babylonian clay tablets giving The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876), a book that Blavatsky used and cited along with the related account by Berossos, the situation has changed greatly. These seven ancient cuneiform tablets have now been almost entirely recovered.2 The text that they contain, called the Enūma Eliš (Enuma Elish), has come to be known in modern times as the Babylonian “Epic of Creation.” This is because it includes an account of creation, often taken to be the standard Babylonian one, and comparison of this to the Biblical book of Genesis has been of much interest. However, this epic is better described as “a narrative myth composed to assert and justify the status of Marduk as head of the pantheon,”3 and its account of creation is only one among others, although it is the best preserved one. The Enuma Elish appears to have been in widespread use from around 1100 B.C.E. until the end of Babylonia as a nation, even being recited during the annual new year’s festival at Babylon.4 It is clearly an exoteric account, written for the general public in the form of an epic poem.

Berossos is now usually thought to have based his account of creation on the Enuma Elish. The truthfulness of his account had been doubted since early times, especially by his two Christian transmitters, Eusebius and George Syncellus. The discovery of the cuneiform writings in the mid-1800s, and in particular the recovery of the Enuma Elish with its similar creation account, showed that Berossos was a faithful recorder of Babylonian traditions. A comparison of the two shows that the broad lines of the creation account do indeed agree in both. However, there are a number of significant differences between the two.

Berossos, in agreement with the Enuma Elish, wrote about the great god Bel (Marduk) cutting the primordial woman in half to form the earth with one half of her and the heavens with the other half. He then says, as reported by Polyhistor, that this is allegorical. The Enuma Elish gives this as a straightforward narrative (tablets 4 and 5), culminating in Marduk forming the heavens with half of her (tablet 4, lines 137-138), and the earth with the other half of her (tablet 5, line 62), with no indication that it is allegorical. The statement by Berossos that this is allegorical was presumably based on esoteric texts that he, as a Babylonian priest, would have had access to. The assumption that Berossos had access to secret texts was confirmed by the research of G. Komoróczy presented in his article, “Berosos and the Mesopotamian Literature” (Acta Antiqua, Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, vol. 21, 1973, pp. 125-152), where he writes (pp. 128-129):

“It is a fact known for a long time that part of the literature written in cuneiform was regarded as secret science. Tablets originally prepared in a cryptographic system of writing have been preserved, but much more important and characteristic than these are those texts, which are qualified as secret by their colophons. . . . From the investigations of R. Borger we also know that the secret tablets were accessible for the priests. Initiation, priestly education and priestly office were prerequisites for the survey of the whole of the tradition. Berosos, who was a priest, on account of his position could reach the whole literature of the age, the fresh copies just like the «closed», library material.

“. . . In the prologue, among the remarks on the sources used by Berosos we read that Berosos found numerous «recordings» (ἀναγϱαφή) in Babylon. These recordings were preserved there from time immemorial, «with great care». The remark expresses exactly the same thing as the colophon of the tablets in cuneiform writing, when for example it writes as follows: ki-ma gaba-ri labiri (LIBIR.RA) bābili ki šaṭir (AB.SAR), «Written on the basis of an old Babylonian specimen». However, beyond this, the whole formula of Berosos, especially the phrase μετὰ πολλῆς πιμελείας, points to the same thing as the colophon of the secret clay tablets. That is, Berosos used the ancient, carefully preserved, secret texts of the Babylonian temple.”

The carefully preserved records that Berossos used covered a period going far back in time, he reports. As his text has come down to us through Polyhistor to Eusebius to Syncellus, he says that they covered a period of more than 150,000 years. His text in the Armenian translation of the still lost chronicle by Eusebius here has 2,150,000 years. While this discrepancy cannot in our present state of knowledge be rectified, the first number appears to be too short. It should be more than 432,000 years, since in the second part of his history Berossos gives the reigns of kings covering 432,000 years up to the time of the flood. Thus, regarding the number 150,000, the newer English translation by Verbrugghe and Wickersham notes:

“The manuscript reading of this number is in doubt. Pliny the Elder says Berossos had records going back 490,000 years; Khairemon of Alexandria, who was the emperor Nero’s tutor and was most likely referring to Berossos, says that Babylonian records go back over 400,000 years; and Cicero de Divinatione (On Divination) 1.36 gives the number of years for which Babylonian records supposedly existed as 470,000.”5

Likewise, the newer English translation by Burstein notes:

“Since the chronological data scattered through books two and three total almost 468,000 years, it is clear that neither the 150,000 years of the Greek nor the 2,150,000 years of the Armenian text can represent Berossus’ total for the period of time supposedly covered by these records. Unfortunately, no solution to the problem is possible although figures given by authors dependent on Berossus for the age of the Babylonian astronomical records—490,000 years according to Pliny the Elder; 480,000 years according to Sextus Julius Africanus; and 400,000 years according to Chaeremon—also point to a figure somewhat over 400,000 years.”6

Thus, Berossos had access to records reportedly covering a period of more than 400,000 years that he said had been preserved at Babylon with great care. He had access not only to the public ones but also to the secret ones, as confirmed by the research of Borger and Komoróczy. While the Christian transmitters of his text (Eusebius and George Syncellus) regarded him as a fabricator because of these unbelievably high numbers of years, students of Theosophy with its even higher numbers of years will be more sympathetic to Berossos.7

We had noted that there are a number of significant differences between the account by Berossos and the Enuma Elish. Since the parts in which the account by Berossos differs from the Enuma Elish have not so far been found in other Babylonian or Sumerian creation accounts, it is reasonable to think that they come from the secret texts that he had access to. What, then, are the parts of the account by Berossos in which he differs from the Enuma Elish, and do these agree with the Book of Dzyan?

In the account by Berossos, the creation story is told by the fish-man Oannes, a divine instructor who brought civilization to the people. In the Enuma Elish, the creation story is an integral part of the epic, not told by someone else. In the account by Berossos, the primordial woman or sea is simply there when the great god Bel (Marduk) comes and divides her in half to form the earth and the heavens. In the Enuma Elish, the primordial woman or sea (Tiamat) engages in an epic battle with Marduk that Marduk wins and then divides her. In the account by Berossos, at the beginning there was only darkness and water. In the Enuma Elish, at the beginning there was Apsu, the subterranean waters, and Tiamat, the primordial woman or sea, who had mingled their waters together, with no mention of darkness.8 In the account by Berossos, unusual creatures were produced in this water without a stated reason. In the Enuma Elish, the primordial woman or sea (Tiamat) creates unusual and fearsome creatures to help her in her fight against Marduk. Since this occurs later in the story, the unusual creatures are not said to be created in the water, nor are they said to dwell in the water. Moreover, the unusual creatures described in the two sources differ significantly. In all these cases, the account by Berossos agrees with the Book of Dzyan, while the Enuma Elish does not.

The water-men, terrible and bad, are described in the Book of Dzyan (stanza 2, verse 8) as “the forms which were two- and four-faced”; “the goat-men, and the dog-headed men, and the men with fishes’ bodies.” The unusual creatures in the account by Berossos are described as follows (Burstein translation, 1978, p. 14):

“It (sc. Oannes) says that there was a time when everything was darkness and water and that in this water strange beings with peculiar forms came to life. For men were born with two wings and some with four wings and two faces; these had one body and two heads, and they were both masculine and feminine, and they had two sets of sexual organs, male and female. Other men were also born, some with the legs and horns of goats, and some with the feet of horses and the foreparts of men. These were hippo-centaurs in form. Bulls were also born with human heads and four-bodied dogs with fish tails growing from their hind quarters, and dog-headed horses and men and other beings with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fish and still other creatures with the forms of all sorts of beasts. In addition to these there were fish and creeping things and snakes and still further amazing (variously formed) creatures differing in appearance from one another. Images of these also are set up (one after another) in the temple of Bel.”

We notice that most of these are unusual kinds of men, or hybrids of men with animals. They well agree with the kinds of water-men, terrible and bad, of the Book of Dzyan. Only a few are unusual kinds of animals, animals that are not hybrids of men with animals.

The unusual creatures in the Enuma Elish are listed only by their names; their descriptions are not given (tablet 1, lines 133-143). Since the Babylonian language has been extinct for two thousand years, what these creatures are had to be determined by other means. While the identifications of some of them remain uncertain, it can be said that only three, four, or five of the stated eleven are unusual kinds of men, or hybrids of men with animals.

The Enuma Elish says that there are eleven of these unusual creatures (line 146), after giving only eight individual names. If we take the eight names that are listed, and add the generic-sounding name that is used in this grouping, “fierce demons,” and then add the two generic-sounding names that are mentioned in the preceding lines, “giant serpents” and “fearful monsters,” we can arrive at eleven: giant serpents, fearful monsters, the Hydra, the Dragon, the Hairy Hero, the Great Demon, the Savage Dog, the Scorpion-man, fierce demons, the Fish-man, and the Mighty Bull (Lambert translation, 2013). As may be seen, only three of these are unusual kinds of men, or hybrids of men with animals: the Hairy Hero, the Scorpion-man, and the Fish-man. Additionally, the “Mighty Bull” could be a “Bull-man,” and the “Savage Dog” might be a “Lion-man.”9

The account of the unusual creatures in the Enuma Elish is given in the following lines, along with some preceding lines for context (Lambert translation, 2013, pp. 57-59):

110       The gods took no rest, they . . . . . . .
111 In their minds they plotted evil,
112       And addressed their mother Tiāmat,

“. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
123 Make battle, avenge them!
124       [ . . ] . . . . reduce to nothingness!”
125 Tiāmat heard, the speech pleased her,
126       (She said,) “Let us do now all you have advised.”
127 The gods assembled within her.
128       They conceived [evil] against the gods their begetters.
129 They . . . . . and took the side of Tiāmat,
130       Fiercely plotting, unresting by night and day,
131 Lusting for battle, raging, storming,
132       They set up a host to bring about conflict.
133 Mother Hubur, who forms everything,
134       Supplied irresistible weapons, and gave birth to giant serpents.
135 They had sharp teeth, they were merciless . . . .
136       With poison instead of blood she filled their bodies.
137 She clothed the fearful monsters with dread,
138       She loaded them with an aura and made them godlike.
139 (She said,) “Let their onlooker feebly perish,
140       May they constantly leap forward and never retire.”
141 She created the Hydra, the Dragon, the Hairy Hero,
142       The Great Demon, the Savage Dog, and the Scorpion-man,
143 Fierce demons, the Fish-man, and the Mighty Bull,
144       Carriers of merciless weapons, fearless in the face of battle.
145 Her commands were tremendous, not to be resisted.
146       Altogether she made eleven of that kind.

As is clearly evident, the Enuma Elish is an epic poem written for the general public. By contrast, the account by Berossos was intended as history, being part of a history of Babylonia written for educated Greeks. Berossos may have realized that there would be no more Babylonian priests. He may have wished to preserve some of his esoteric knowledge in Greek before it was lost forever. Whatever the facts of this may be, he has given us an account that is unique in the annals of history. Although what we have of the history by Berossos is only a brief summary, passed from one writer to another, it is extremely valuable. It is our only window into ancient sources that apparently agree with the Book of Dzyan on the pre-history of our globe at the time of the water-men, terrible and bad.



  1. Newer editions of the Greek text of Berossos, in chronological order starting with the most recent:

De Breucker, G. “Berossos of Babylon (680).” Brill’s New Jacoby. Editor in Chief: Ian Worthington. Brill Online, 2010. Reference. <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-jacoby/berossos-of-babylon-680-a680>

Mosshammer, Alden A. In Georgii Syncelli, Ecloga Chronographica, pp. 28-40. Leipzig: BSB B. G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft, 1984. See: Berossos, Greek, Mosshammer 1984

Jacoby, Felix. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Teil 3, Band C.1, Numbers 680 and 685, pp. 364-397 and 398-410. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958. See: Berossos, Greek, Jacoby 1958

Newer English translations of the text of Berossos, in chronological order starting with the most recent:

De Breucker, G. “Berossos of Babylon (680).” Brill’s New Jacoby. Editor in Chief: Ian Worthington. Brill Online, 2010. Reference. <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-jacoby/berossos-of-babylon-680-a680> Brill’s New Jacoby, started in 2007 and expected to be completed in 2017, is a new expanded version of Felix Jacoby’s multi-volume collection of the fragments preserved by Greek historians (listed above). While Jacoby often included German translations, this collection includes English translations. The Greek text and English translation of Berossos by Geert de Breucker were added to this database in 2010. See: Berossos, English, de Breucker 2010

Adler, William, and Paul Tuffin. The Chronography of George Synkellos: A Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. This is the first complete translation of the Greek book by Synkellos or Syncellus that includes the account by Berossos from Polyhistor by way of Eusebius. The Berossos account begins on p. 38. See: Berossos, English, Adler and Tuffin 2002

Verbrugghe, Gerald P., and John M. Wickersham. Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,1996. About their translation they write, p. 10: “We want to add that it is not our goal to present a complete and scholarly commentary on Berossos’s and Manetho’s histories. . . . Rather, we want to present in one volume an accurate translation of what remains of Berossos’s and Manetho’s histories in a form that will appeal to the student interested in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt as well as to one interested in Hellenistic Mesopotamia and Egypt.” See: Berossos, English, Verbrugghe and Wickersham 1996

Burstein, Stanley Mayer. The Babyloniaca of Berossus. Sources and Monographs: Sources from the Ancient Near East, vol. 1, fasc. 5. Malibu: Undena Publication,1978. About his translation he writes, p. 11: “The basis of the translation is the excerpts from Eusebius’ abridgement of Polyhistor’s epitome preserved by Syncellus . . . . Like all compromises, the resulting translation is not perfect, but it does make it possible for the first time for scholars and students interested in the content of Berossus’ work to read it in a form as close to the original structure of his book as can now be determined.” See: Babylonaica of Berossus

A partial English translation is found in: Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942; 2nd ed., 1951, pp. 77-78 (the excerpt on creation). https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/publications/misc/babylonian-genesis-story-creation

A partial English translation from the 1923 German translation by Paul Schnabel is found in pieces in: Brandon, S. G. F. Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963, pp. 111-113, 117.

It may be noted that there were three editions of Isaac Preston Cory’s Ancient Fragments. The 1832 edition that Blavatsky cited is the 2nd edition, greatly expanded from the 1st edition. The 1st edition, 1828, nonetheless also included the Berossos text in Greek and English. The third edition, 1876, prepared by E. Richmond Hodges, was called “a new and enlarged edition,” although it omitted the Greek text, Cory’s lengthy “Introductory Dissertation,” and what Hodges regarded as “the Neo-Platonic forgeries which Cory had placed at the end.”

  1. The most complete editions of the Akkadian text of the Enūma Eliš (Enuma Elish), in chronological order starting with the most recent:

Lambert, W. G. In Babylonian Creation Myths. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2013. https://www.eisenbrauns.com/ECOM/_4MQ0W1WZY.HTM

Kämmerer, Thomas R., and Kai A. Metzler. Das babylonische Weltschöpfungsepos Enūma elîš. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, Band 375. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2012.

Talon, Philippe. Enūma Eliš: The Standard Babylonian Creation Myth, Introduction, Cuneiform Text, Transliteration, and Sign List with a Translation and Glossary in French. [Helsinki]: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2005.

Lambert, W. G., and Simon B. Parker. Enuma Eliš: The Babylonian Epic of Creation, The Cuneiform Text; text established by W. G. Lambert and copied out by Simon B. Parker. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.

The most complete English translations of the Enūma Eliš (Enuma Elish), in chronological order starting with the most recent:

Lambert, W. G. In Babylonian Creation Myths. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2013. https://www.eisenbrauns.com/ECOM/_4MQ0W1WZY.HTM

Lambert, W. G. “Mesopotamian Creation Stories.” In Imagining Creation, ed. Markham J. Geller and Mineke Schipper, pp. 15-59. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Foster, Benjamin R. In Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press. 1st ed. 1993; 2nd ed. 1996; 3rd ed. 2005. The 1st and 2nd eds. are in two volumes, and the translation is in vol. 1. Foster’s translation is also in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo, vol. 1, Leiden: Brill, 1997, but omitting tablets 6 and 7. See: Enuma Elish, English, Foster 2005

Dalley, Stephanie. In Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989; revised edition, 2000.

Speiser, E. A., revised and supplemented by A. K. Grayson in the 3rd edition. In Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1st ed., 1950; 2nd ed., 1955; 3rd ed., 1969. See: Enuma Elish, English, Speiser and Grayson 1969

Heidel, Alexander. In The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1st ed. 1942; 2nd ed. 1951. This translation was made before the publication in 1966 of what became the standard edition of the cuneiform text, by Lambert and Parker, and remained so for four decades.

King, L. W. The Seven Tablets of Creation, 2 vols. London: Luzac and Co., 1902. Volume 1 is “English Translations” of the Enuma Elish, and Volume 2 is “Supplementary Texts,” consisting of facsimiles of the cuneiform text fragments. At this point in time, the text was still quite fragmentary, even though King had identified many more fragments of it than George Smith was able to use in his 1876 book, The Chaldean Account of Genesis.

3. Lambert, “Mesopotamian Creation Stories,” 2008, p. 17. See also the chapter titled “The Rise of Marduk in the Sumero-Babylonian Pantheon” in Lambert’s 2013 book, Babylonian Creation Myths, which begins (p. 248): “Since the purpose of the Epic was to show that Marduk had replaced Enlil as head of the pantheon, . . .” Lambert had earlier attempted to clarify what the Enuma Elish is in relation to previous ideas that it is “the” Babylonian Epic of Creation in his article, “A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis” (The Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., vol. 16, 1965, pp. 287-300). He there writes (p. 291): “The first major conclusion is that the Epic of Creation is not a norm of Babylonian or Sumerian cosmology. It is a sectarian and aberrant combination of mythological threads woven into an unparalleled compositum. In my opinion it is not earlier than 1100 B.C. It happens to be the best preserved Babylonian document of its genre simply because it was at its height of popularity when the libraries were formed from which our knowledge of Babylonian mythology is mostly derived. The various traditions it draws upon are often perverted to such an extent that conclusions based on this text alone are suspect. It can only be used safely in the whole context of ancient Mesopotamian mythology.” Foster agrees, saying in the introduction to his translation of the Enuma Elish (2005, p. 436): “This poem should not be considered ‘the’ Mesopotamian creation story; rather, it is the individual work of a poet who viewed Babylon as the center of the universe, and Marduk, god of Babylon, as head of the pantheon.”

4. For the dating, see Lambert, “Mesopotamian Creation Stories,” 2008, p.17. Interestingly, G. Komoróczy provides good evidence that the Enuma Elish was not a re-working of earlier Babylonian or Sumerian accounts, as we might expect, but was imported from outside in the latter part of the second millennium B.C.E. See his article, “‘The Separation of Sky and Earth,’ The Cycle of Kumarbi and the Myths of Cosmogony in Mesopotamia,” Acta Antiqua, Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, vol. 21, 1973, pp. 21-45, especially pp. 30-33. For the new year’s festival, see Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 2nd ed., 1951, pp. 16-17, and Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, rev. ed., 2000, p. 231.

5. Verbrugghe and Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, 1996, p. 40 fn. 13.

6. Burstein, The Babyloniaca of Berossus, 1978, p. 13 fn. 3.

7. Theosophy teaches that our current fifth root-race humanity has been in existence for about one million years (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 435), and that the cradle of humanity, meaning our current fifth root-race humanity, is India. At present, Sumer is often regarded as the world’s oldest civilization, going back to somewhere around 4000 B.C.E. See, for example, Samuel Noah Kramer’s History Begins at Sumer (3rd rev. ed., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981; first published in 1956), and his The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963). At the time Blavatsky wrote Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, Sumer was just being identified as distinct from the later Mesopotamian civilizations of Assyria and Babylonia, on the basis of the cuneiform writings that were discovered in the mid-1800s. The term “Sumerian” for these early people and their language and civilization, proposed by Jules Oppert in 1869, had not yet come into general use. Henry C. Rawlinson, who in 1852-1853 was the first to definitely identify Sumerian as a distinct language, called it Akkadian. Other scholars of that time, including Joseph Halévy whom Blavatsky referred to, followed him in using this term for the language and the people. However, the term Akkadians later came to be used for the Assyrians and Babylonians as distinguished from the Sumerians, and is so used today. (For this history, see Kramer, The Sumerians, pp. 20-21.) Using the term Akkadians in the old sense of the earliest civilization of Mesopotamia, now called Sumerians, Blavatsky wrote about them (first in Isis Unveiled, vol. 1, p. 576, and then repeated in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 203): “They were simply emigrants on their way to Asia Minor from India, the cradle of humanity, and their sacerdotal adepts tarried to civilize and initiate a barbarian people.” According to this, the old records that Berossos said were preserved at Babylon with great care ultimately came from India.

8. Regarding “darkness” in the account by Berossos: The Enuma Elish had shown that the creation account given by Berossos was not fabricated by him, but rather that it agreed in general with this “standard” Babylonian creation account. So much so that the Enuma Elish was sometimes used in textual criticism regarding the Berossos text that was transmitted to us. This was done in the 1923 book by Paul Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische Literatur, described as “the great summarization closing down the earlier investigations” (Komoróczy, “Berosos and the Mesopotamian Literature,” p. 126). In his book Schnabel concluded (p. 156) that the Greek word skotos, “darkness,” must be an interpolation by a Jew or Christian in the Berossos text, influenced by the Biblical book of Genesis (chapter 1, verse 2: “darkness was upon the face of the deep”), partly because “darkness” does not occur in the opening of the Enuma Elish. The Berossos text has: “It (sc. Oannes) says that there was a time when everything was darkness and water” (Burstein translation). Burstein (1978 translation), and Verbrugghe and Wickersham (1996 translation), and Adler and Tuffin (2002 translation), and de Breucker (2010 translation) all have notes here saying that “darkness” is or is most likely an interpolation, agreeing with the influential conclusion of Schnabel, which was also accepted by Felix Jacoby in his 1958 standard Greek edition and accompanying German translation (p. 370). However, one must wonder why a writer such as Eusebius or Syncellus would want to make the account by Berossos sound more like Genesis, when their purpose in quoting the account by Berossos was to show how false it was for the very reason that it did not agree with scripture. De Breucker (2010) adds to his note about “darkness” being an interpolation: “In a sense, it is true that according to Enuma Elish, the universe was initially dark: Bel-Marduk had yet to create the light-giving heavenly bodies. Since Abydenos (BNJ 685 F 1), however, only mentions water, we accept that ‘darkness’ is an interpolation.” The parallel account of Berossos by Abydenos would provide weighty evidence, if it was not so very brief. Abydenos sums up all of the first book by Berossos in not even a full sentence, and in the same sentence moves on to the material from the second book by Berossos. Thus, the omission of “darkness” in his too brief account means little. Then, if “darkness” is an interpolation here at the beginning of the account by Berossos in his first book, it must also be an interpolation later in this book where he says (de Breucker translation, 2010): “Belos, whom they translate as Zeus, cut the darkness in half and separated earth and sky from each other and ordered the universe.” Indeed, Schnabel so regarded it. Now comes the next sentence: “The creatures could not endure the power of the light and were destroyed.” At this point, we have to assume not only the interpolation of a word, “darkness,” but of a whole sentence. Indeed, Jacoby (but not Schnabel) regarded the whole paragraph that includes this sentence as an interpolation. Yet he does not regard the sentence after this paragraph as an interpolation: “Belos also completed the stars and the sun and the moon and the five planets.” We may note that the Burstein translation and the Verbrugghe and Wickersham translation were based on Jacoby’s Greek text, and the de Breucker translation in Brill’s New Jacoby followed it in bracketing off these alleged interpolations. As opposed to this now widely held idea that “darkness” is an interpolation, there are yet more reasons. Berossos did not base his account solely on the Enuma Elish, as had been assumed after its discovery, nor is the Enuma Elish even primarily an “Epic of Creation,” as it has come to be called, let alone “the” Babylonian Epic of Creation. We do not have, by any means, the whole of the Mesopotamian literature, whether the Babylonian, or especially the older Sumerian. Komoróczy has shown that Berossos must have drawn upon Sumerian sources, already ancient in his time, and not just on Babylonian sources (“Berosos and the Mesopotamian Literature,” pp. 140-142). Berossos also drew upon “secret texts of the Babylonian temple,” as confirmed by Komoróczy. The absence of “darkness” in the public Enuma Elish, or in other fragmentary Babylonian creation tales that have so far been recovered (see Lambert, “Further Babylonian Creation Tales,” in his Babylonian Creation Myths, 2013), does not prove its absence in the secret texts that Berossos could draw upon, or in other public texts that have not yet been recovered. For all the above reasons, I do not find the idea that “darkness” is an interpolation in the account by Berossos to be convincing.

9. The Mighty Bull had been translated by Lambert earlier as the Bull-man (2008, p. 40), in agreement with the Dalley translation (2000, p. 237) and the Foster translation (2005, p. 444). For “the Savage Dog” in the Lambert translation (2008 and 2013), which is “a rabid dog” in the Dalley translation (2000), the Foster translation (2005) has “lion men.” Foster has put these all in the plural (2005, p. 444): monster serpents, fierce dragons, serpents, dragons, hairy hero-men, lion monsters, lion men, scorpion men, mighty demons, fish men, and bull men. Two detailed studies of these creatures in English can be found in the two-part article, “Mischwesen,” by F. A. M. Wiggermann and by A. Green in Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie, Band 8, 3./4. Lieferung, 1994, pp. 222-264. Wiggermann provides more background on these creatures and their identifications in his 1992 book, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, “Inventory of Monsters,” pp. 143-188.

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


The Unusual History of Beings From India, by the Greek physician, Ktesias (5th century BCE)

By Robert Hütwohl on April 17, 2016 at 8:08 pm

The Greek physician, author, courtier, naturalist and traveler, Ctesias (Gr. Κτησίας = Ktesias), wrote a history of Persia and Assyria (“The Persica”1) and India (“Indica”2) totaling some 23 volumes of historical accounts. His accounts have come down to us but as fragments. He flourished during the 5th century BCE Present at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II, Ctesias took notes from travelers’ adventures and reports from far off lands. Certain accounts are probably of long extinct species. Although some writers have questioned his accuracy, others have substantiated them. At times, he countered what Herodotus had reported in his “The Histories.”3 Particularly, it is Ktesias’ “Indica” which I examined, noting some of the more unusual observations and reports.

“On India” was the first writing to introduce westerners to the people, places and things of India. We are indebted to Photios I of Constantinople (Gr. Φώτιος = Fotios) and his 280 volumes called Myriobiblon (Bibliotheca) for most of what has survived from Ktesias.

I did read Ktesias’ “The Persica” but found nothing in it which met my objective, which was to supplement David Reigle’s excellent findings on the topic of the Book of Dzyan and his two posts in March about “Water-Men, Terrible and Bad.” Blavatsky does not mention Ktesias, possibly because nothing was available early enough prior to the release of “The Secret Doctrine.”

Of course, as expected, these reports by Ktesias do not exactly correspond to what is in “The Secret Doctrine,” Anthropogenesis. At least, not yet. As we know, from the stanzas of the Book of Dzyan we have only fragments from the original and therefore our and others’ findings might eventually correspond, if more stanzas were to be released in the future and further fragments, such as in the Mesopotamian, Greek and Sanskrit and possibly Chinese come to light. We do not know even the most vague time periods for the “Water-Men, Terrible and Bad” other than long periods in this round prior to incrustation and before the arrival by the Lords of Flame and the inception of the manas principle in the human. These Water-men would have amassed from nature’s previous remains of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms still lingering from the first, second and third rounds which would have produced bizarre (to us) creatures.

Nature, however, had eventually progressed from those long distant periods, and evolved the ability for each species to genetically protect itself from forming with other species, protecting the ovum from penetration by species not of its own kind, which resulted in chimeras. Can anomalies repeat themselves from past organisms? I would say they can, as so-called “accidents” have occurred from the past.

And, now we live at a time when long past “unaided, physical nature fails” has presented itself with the intervention by humans which can reverse millions of years of progress. Evidence exists where certain labs around the world are attempting to intervene in animal and human organisms, by using the relatively new and amazingly simple cut and paste technique called CRISPR Gene-Editing, and synthetic biological manipulation which is proceeding unabated in human and dog genetic material. Stem cell research and 3-D printing has advanced so quickly, we will be able to replace entire organs and body parts such a noses, ears and appendages and even the heart.

It is unfortunate for extant and future humanity, we have only fragments from the ancient past, which would indicate, as in Stanza II of Book II Anthropogenesis: “They [the Lhas] slew the forms which were two- and four-faced. They fought the goat-men, and the dog-headed men, and the men with fishes’ bodies.” But new written fragments will be discovered whereby archaeology will continue to amaze us with new and wonderful discoveries to vindicate the ancient records of the past.


1The Fragments of the Persika of Ktesias, edited with introduction and notes by John Gilmore. Ctesias. London, Macmillan, 1888


Ctesias’ ‘History of Persia.’ Tales of the Orient. LLoyd Llewellyn-Jones, James Robson (Routledge Classical Translations) Routledge, 2010

2Ctesias. On India.” Translation and Commentary by Andrew G. Nichols. Bristol Classical Press, Bloomsbury, 2011

3Herodotus. The Histories. A New Translation by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press, 2008


the translation which Blavatsky used: Herodotus, History of Herodotus, tr. George Rawlinson, assisted by Henry Rawlinson and J. G. Wilkinson, in 4 volumes, new edition.  London: John Murray, 1862


Samples from Ctesias’ “Indica”:

pp. 48-9

(15) There lives in India a beast called the martichora which has a human face, is the size of a lion, and is red like cinnabar. It has three rows of teeth, human ears, and light blue eyes like a man’s. It has a tail like a land scorpion on which there is a stinger more than a cubit long. It also has stingers on either side of the tail as well as on the end like a scorpion. If approached, it stabs with a stinger inflicting a fatal wound. If its opponent fights from a distance, then it points its tail at him and fires stingers as if from a bow, but when assailed from behind, it stretches its tail straight out. It can fire stingers as far as a pletheron and the stingers are completely fatal to everything except elephants. Each stinger is one foot long and as wide as the thinnest reed. The word ‘martichora’ means man-eater in Greek because it mostly captures and devours humans, but eats other animals as well. It fights with both its talons and stingers, which Ctesias claims grow back after being fired.


pp. 53-54

(37) According to Ctesias, in these mountains live men who have the head of a dog. Their clothes come from wild animals and they converse not with speech, but by barking like dogs, and this is how they understand each other. They have larger teeth than dogs and claws that are similar but longer and more rounded. They live in the mountains as far as the Indus River and they are black and very just, like the rest of the Indians with whom they associate. Since they understand what the other Indians say but cannot converse, they communicate by barking and making gestures with their hands and fingers like the deaf and mute. The Indians call them Kalystrioi which in Greek means Cynocephaloi (‘Dog-Headed People’). They have 120,000 people in their tribe.


pp. 55-6

(44) They say another race lives beyond these people past the source of the river. These men are dark like the rest of the Indians and do not work, eat grain, or drink water. Instead, they tend many flocks of sheep, oxen, goats, and cattle and drink only milk and nothing else. When their young are born, they do not have an anus nor do they have bowel movements. They have buttocks but the orifice is grown together. Consequently, they do no pass excrement but they say their urine is like cheese, not thick but foul. They say that once they drink early in the morning and again in the middle of the day, they ingest a sweet root which does not allow milk to solidify in their abdomen. They gnaw on this root in the evening and vomit everything up with ease.


pp. 59

(50) In the mountains of India where the reed grows, there is a tribe of men numbering 30,000. Their women give birth only once in their lifetime and their children have very beautiful teeth on both the upper and lower jaws. From birth each man and woman has white hair on their head and eyebrows for the first thirty years of their life. Their hair all over their body is white; after this it begins to turn black. When they reach the age of sixty, their hair is totally black. These men have up to eight fingers on each hand and likewise eight toes on each foot; the same goes for the women. They are very warlike and 5,000 of them serve the king of the Indians as archers and javelin men. According to Ctesias, they have ears big enough to cover their arms as far as the elbow and their entire back at the same time and one ear can touch the other.

(51) These are the stories Ctesias writes and asserts that they are completely truthful; adding that he personally saw some of the things he wrote about while others he heard from first- hand witnesses. He says that he omitted many other more incredible tales in order to not seem untrustworthy to those who have not seen them personally. These are some of the stories in his work.


pp. 65-6

F45h. Aelian H 4.27
I hear that the griffin is an Indian animal with four feet with exceedingly strong talons which most closely resemble a lion’s. They have plentiful feathers on their backs with black plumage but red in the front while their wings are white. Ctesias claims that the neck is adorned with deep blue feathers; the beak and head are like an eagle, similar to what an artisan would draw or mould, and its eyes are a fiery red. It makes its nest in the mountains but it is impossible to capture a full grown one; however, they can be taken into captivity when they are young. The Bactrians who are neighbours with the Indians say that the griffins guard the gold in that region and that they dig it out and weave their nests with it while the Indians gather what falls off.


p. 72

F45ob. Psellus ed. P. Maas [L]
(2) Men dwell on the mountain who have the head of a dog but the rest of their body is human. They shout to the other Indians and communicate with them, but instead of talking they bark like dogs. They eat the fruit from these trees and the raw meat from wild animals which they hunt. They also keep many sheep and their teeth are larger than a dog’s. They wear black garments made of hide and they drink milk from their sheep. All of them have tails, men and women alike, below the haunches just like a dog.

F45pa. Plin. [Pliny] H 7.23
In many mountains there is a race of men with the head of a dog and clothed in animal skins. Instead of a voice they issue howls. They are armed for the hunt with talons and feast on birds. According to Ctesias, they numbered more than 120,000 at the time of his writing.

F45pb. Tzetz. [Tzetzes] Chil. 7.713
Ctesias claims that there are amber-producing trees and dog-headed peoples in India. He maintains that they are very just and live by hunting.


pp. 73-4

F45q. Aelian A 4.52
I have heard that there are wild asses in India no smaller than horses which have a white body, a head which is almost crimson, and dark blue eyes. They have a horn on their brow one and a half cubits in length. The lower portion of the horn is white, the upper part is vermilion, and the middle is very dark. I hear that the Indians drink from these multicoloured horns, but not all the Indians, only the most powerful, and they pour gold around them at intervals as if they were adorning the beautiful arm of a statue with bracelets. They say that the one who drinks from this horn will never experience terminal illnesses. No longer would he suffer seizures or the so-called holy sickness nor could he be killed with poison. If he drank the poison first, he would vomit it up and return to health. . . .


p. 79

F51a. Plin. H 7.23: (F45pa; F45t)
The same author (sc. Ctesias) writes that the race of men who are called the Monocoli have one leg but show amazing agility by jumping. These same men are also called the Sciapodes because when it is hot, they lay on the ground on their back and shade themselves with their feet. They inhabit a region not far from the Troglodytes. Turning again to the west from these people are those who lack necks and have eyes on their shoulders. (24) There are also satyrs in the mountains of the eastern part of India in the region of the so-called Catarcludi. Satyrs are extremely swift animals running sometimes on all fours and sometimes upright in imitation of a human. Because of their speed, they are never captured unless old or sick.


p. 80

F51b. Tzetz. Chil. 7.621-41 (Kiesling 629-49)
There is a book by Scylax of Caryanda written about India which claims that there are men called the Sciapodes and the Otoliknoi. Of these the Sciapodes have very broad feet and at midday they drop to the ground, stretch their feet out above them, and give themselves shade. The Otoliknoi have huge ears which they use to cover themselves like an umbrella. This Scylax also writes numerous tales about the Monophthalmoi, the Henotiktontes, and countless other strange marvels. He speaks of them as if they were true and none of them fabricated. Since I have not seen any of it, I consider these tales to be lies. That they have some elements of truth is attested by the fact that many others claim to have seen such marvels and ones even more incredible in their lifetime. This list includes Ctesias, Iambulos, Isigonos, Rheginos, Alexander, Sotion, Agathosthenes, Antigonos, Edoxos, Hippostratos, and countless others, including Protagoras himself and even Ptolemy, Akestorides and other writers of prose some of whom I am personally familiar with and others I am not.


pp. 90-91

F75. Prima interpolatio cod. Monac. Gr. 287 (Photius) [L] The tales of Ctesias of Cnidus on the marvels of the world: The Seres and the inhabitants of upper India are said to have an exceedingly large physique as some of them are found to be thirteen cubits tall, and they live for more than 200 years. On one portion of the Gaïtros River there are savage men with skin which most closely resembles a hippopotamus since it cannot be pierced by arrows. In India too they say that at the innermost region on an island in the sea there live men, who have very large tails, like those depicted on a satyr.

F76. Altera interpolatio cod. Monac. Gr. [Codex Monacensis Graecus] 287 (Photius) [L] In Ethiopia there is a creature called the krokottas, commonly known as the dog-wolf. It has amazing power and they say it mimics a human voice and calls men out by name during the night so that they approach the human voice. They attack in throngs and devour their prey. The animal has the strength of a lion, the swiftness of a horse, and the power of a bull, but it yields to iron . . ..


pp. 123

men who have the head of a dog: Cf. F45ob, F45p a-g; There are several earlier references to Cynocephaloi in Greek literature, however Ctesias gives the first detailed description of them. Hesiod (Fr. 40A, 44) refers to ‘Half-dogs’ but the reference is too vague to determine any relation to the Cynocephaloi, although the first-century BCE grammarian Simmias of Rhodes certainly equated the two (Fr. 1.9-13).


p. 156

those who lack necks and have eyes on their shoulders: Cf. Hdt. 4.191 who places this tribe in Libya. Elsewhere (5.8.46) Pliny describes the Blemmyes who are an African tribe of men who have no heads but eyes and a mouth on their chest.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


Water-Men, Terrible and Bad, continued

By David Reigle on March 13, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Although our history books do not tell us of any such beings as water-men, a history book from long ago does. This is the lost history book by the Babylonian priest Berossos (Berossus, Berosos, Berosus), which was quoted by later Greek writers. Berossos lived circa 300 B.C.E., and as a Babylonian priest he was heir to a long tradition of Babylonian knowledge. Berossos lived just after the conquest of Babylonia by Alexander the Great, so he learned the Greek language and wrote in Greek. Part of his history book was quoted or recounted by the Greek writer Alexander Polyhistor, who introduces it as follows:

“Berossus, in the first book of his history of Babylonia, informs us that he lived in the age of Alexander the son of Philip. And he mentions that there were written accounts, preserved at Babylon with the greatest care, comprehending a period of above fifteen myriads [150,000] of years: and that these writings contained histories of the heaven and of the sea; of the birth of mankind; and of the kings, and of the memorable actions which they had achieved.”

(Isaac Preston Cory, Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Chaldaean, Egyptian, Tyrian, Carthaginian, Indian, Persian, and Other Writers, 2nd edition, London: 1832, p. 21; also in new and enlarged edition, revised by E. Richmond Hodges, London: 1876, p. 56)

Alexander Polyhistor then recounts from the history book by Berossos the beginnings of Babylonia. Babylonia was originally a lawless country. There appeared from the sea a being named Oannes, who had the body of a fish. He taught the people all the arts and sciences. He gave them laws, writing, mathematics, building, agriculture, etc. Oannes thus brought civilization to the country. As part of the knowledge that Oannes brought, he wrote an account of the generation of humanity. The purport of what Oannes wrote is given by Berossos via Alexander Polyhistor as follows:

“There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced of a twofold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads: the one that of a man, the other of a woman: and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats: some had horses’ feet: while others united the hind quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippocentaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men; and dogs with fourfold bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes: horses also with the heads of dogs: men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.”

(Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, pp. 23-24; rev. ed., 1876, pp. 58-59)

The accuracy of the account given by Berossos as truly representing Babylonian tradition was confirmed by more ancient cuneiform tablets or inscriptions. One of these is a tablet discovered at Cutha (or Kutha). It was described by George Smith and A. H. Sayce in the book, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, as follows:

“This is a very obscure inscription, the first column, however, forms part of a relation similar to that of Berosus in his history of the Creation; the beings who were killed by the light, and those with men’s heads and bird’s bodies, and bird’s heads and men’s bodies, agree with the composite monsters of Berosus, while the goddess of chaos, Tiamtu, who is over them, is the same as the Thalatth of the Greek writer. It may be remarked that the doctrine of the Greek philosopher, Anaximander, that man has developed out of creatures of various shape, and once like the fish was an inhabitant of the water, is but a reminiscence of the old Babylonian legend.”

(The Chaldean Account of Genesis, by George Smith, new edition, revised by A. H. Sayce, London: 1880, p. 97; corresponding to the 1876 edition, pp. 106-107, but with the addition of the last sentence)

These are the sources that Blavatsky was referring to when commenting on Book of Dzyan, stanza 2, verses 5 and 6 (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, pp. 52-56). She took for granted that the reader had this information when making some of her comments. Since then, newer translations of this material have been published, the latest of which is: Berossos and Manetho: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, Introduced and Translated by Gerald P. Verbrugghe and John M. Wickersham, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


Water-Men, Terrible and Bad

By David Reigle on March 7, 2016 at 2:53 am

Book of Dzyan (Anthropogenesis), stanza 2, verses 5-6:

“5. The Wheel whirled for thirty crores (of years, or 300,000,000). It constructed rūpas (forms): soft stones that hardened (minerals); hard plants that softened (vegetation). Visible from invisible, insects and small lives (sarīspa, śvāpada). She (the Earth) shook them off her back whenever they overran the mother. . . . After thirty crores of years, she turned round. She lay on her back; on her side. . . . She would call no sons of Heaven, she would ask no sons of Wisdom. She created from her own bosom. She evolved water-men, terrible and bad.

6. The Water-men, terrible and bad, she herself created. From the remains of others (from the mineral, vegetable and animal remains) from the first, second, and third (Rounds) she formed them. . . . .”

The idea of water-men, whether terrible and bad or not, is strange. Our history books do not tell us of any such beings. There is in India an old collection of old stories, the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, “Ocean of the Streams of Story,” that speaks of water-men (jala-mānuṣa, jala-pūruṣa). This extensive collection has only been translated into English once, by C. H. Tawney, published in two large volumes, 1880 and 1884. It was revised by N. M. Penzer and published in ten volumes, 1924-1928. In book 12, chapter 4 (chapter 71 of the whole book), we find a brief episode involving three water-men, who are indeed terrible and bad. Here is the story as translated by Tawney:

“Then, as Mṛigānkadatta was journeying to Ujjayinī, with Śrutadhi and Vimalabuddhi, to find Śaśānkavatī, he reached the Narmadā which lay in his path. The fickle stream, when she beheld him, shook her waves like twining arms, and gleamed white with laughing foam, as if she were dancing and smiling because he had so fortunately been reunited with his ministers. And when he had gone down into the bed of the river to bathe, it happened that a king of the Śavaras, named Māyāvaṭu, came there for the same purpose. When he had bathed, three water-genii* rose up at the same time and seized the Bhilla, whose retinue fled in terror. When Mṛigānkadatta saw that, he went into the water with his sword drawn, and killed those water-genii, and delivered that king of the Bhillas. When the king of the Bhillas was delivered from the danger of those monsters, he came up out of the water and fell at the feet of the prince, and said to him, — ‘Who are you, that Providence has brought here to save my life on the present occasion? . . .’

* Literally, ‘water-men.’ Perhaps they were of the same race as Grendel the terrible nicor. See also Veckenstedt’s Wendische Märchen, p. 185 and ff., Grimm’s Irische Märchen, p. cv, Kuhn’s Westfälische Märchen, Vol. II, p. 35, Waldau’s Böhmische Märchen, p. 187 and ff., and the 6th, 20th and 58th Jātakas. See also Grohmann’s account of the ‘Wassermann,’ Sagen aus Böhmen, p. 148.”

(C. H. Tawney, Ocean of the Streams of Story, vol. 2, p. 154; N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story, vol. 6, p. 36; Sanskrit: Kathāsaritsāgara, edited by Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab, fourth edition, revised by Wasudev Laxman Sastri Pansikar, Bombay,1930, p. 367)

In another story, we read of a water-man who is not terrible and bad, but was condemned to be born as a water-man because he broke his commitment in undertaking the vow of an upoṣaṇa fast. It is in book 10, chapter 7 (chapter 63 of the whole book). Here is part of his story as translated by Tawney:

“‘Noble sir, if it is not a secret, tell me now, who you are, and why, though you possess such luxury, you dwell in the water.’ When the man who lived in the water heard this, he said, ‘Hear! I will tell you.’ And he began to tell his history in the following words.

“There is a region in the south of the Himālaya, called Kāśmīra; which Providence seems to have created in order to prevent mortals from hankering after Heaven; where Śiva and Vishṇu, as self-existent deities, inhabit a hundred shrines, forgetting their happy homes in Kailāsa and Śvetadvīpa; which is laved by the waters of the Vitastā, and full of heroes and sages, and proof against treacherous crimes and enemies, though powerful. There I was born in my former life, as an ordinary villager of the Brāhman caste, with two wives, and my name was Bhavaśarman. There I once struck up a friendship with some Buddhist mendicants, and undertook the vow, called the fast Uposhaṇa, prescribed in their scriptures. And when this vow was almost completed, one of my wives wickedly came and slept in my bed. And in the fourth watch of the night, bewildered with sleep, I broke my vow. But as it fell only a little short of completion, I have been born as a water-genius, and these two wives of mine have been born as my present wives here. That wicked woman was born as that unfaithful wife, the second as this faithful one. So great was the power of my vow, though it was rendered imperfect, that I remember my former birth, and enjoy such luxuries every night. If I had not rendered my vow imperfect, I should never have been born as what I am.”

(C. H. Tawney, Ocean of the Streams of Story, vol. 2, pp. 81-82; N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story, vol. 5, pp. 123-124; Sanskrit: Kathāsaritsāgara, edited by Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab, fourth edition, revised by Wasudev Laxman Sastri Pansikar, Bombay,1930, p. 331)

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


Bright Space Son of Dark Space

By David Reigle on March 6, 2016 at 2:51 am

Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verse 7:

“7. Behold, oh Lanoo! The radiant child of the two, the unparalleled refulgent glory: Bright Space Son of Dark Space, which emerges from the depths of the great dark waters.”

I am always trying to find the Sanskrit terms that might lie behind the English terms used by Blavatsky in her translation of stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan.” When the Sanskrit terms can be identified, we can then search for them in extant Sanskrit texts and see how they are used there. This will often allow us to learn more about the sometimes obscure ideas found in the Book of Dzyan.

“Bright space son of dark space,” is an unusual phrase. While looking up the word rajas in A Practical Vedic Dictionary by Suryakanta a few years ago, I saw that he referred to “dark space,” kṛṣṇa rajas, and he contrasted this with rocanā dyauḥ, which means the shining or bright (rocanā) sky or heavens or space (dyau). Further investigation, utilizing A Ṛgvedic Word Concordance by Alexander Lubotsky, showed that the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas occurs only four times in the Ṛg-veda, and three of these are in a single hymn.1 This hymn, Ṛg-veda 1.35, is addressed to Savitar, who is the divinity associated with the sun. The famous Gāyatrī mantra, Ṛg-veda 3.62.10, invokes Savitar. Ṛg-veda 1.35 seems to describe the sun in its course through day and night, where kṛṣṇa rajas describes the night sky. About rajas, R. N. Dandekar in his article, “Universe in Vedic Thought,” writes, “The word rajas in the Ṛgveda usually denotes: when used in singular, the midregion; and when used in plural, the worlds or regions in general.”2

The ancient Ṛg-veda is a very obscure text, being written in poetic verses, and its meanings are far from certain. For long ages Indian tradition has regarded this text as being the most sacred of all, suggesting that it may have more than surface meanings. In another part of the ancient world, Plato has Socrates saying that the ancients “concealed their meaning from the multitude by their poetry” (Theaetetus, Loeb Classical Library, p. 143).3 Whether or not there is any other meaning in Ṛg-veda 1.35 than a description of the sun in its course through day and night, it will be worthwhile to look at how the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas, “dark space” or “black realm,” is used in this hymn. In verses 2 and 9 it is found in the singular, where the general meaning “midregion” or “mid-space” for rajas would be applicable as referring to the night sky. In verse 4 it is found in the plural, rajāṃsi, which is glossed in the Nirukta, an ancient text explaining Vedic words (at 4.19), as lokāḥ, “worlds.” Worlds or realms beyond our own, being invisible to us, are often thought of as being somewhere up in the sky, which perhaps explains why rajas is often translated as “sky, atmosphere, mid-space,” etc., even when it may refer to the (invisible) worlds postulated in Indian cosmology. These rajāṃsi are also referred to in a secret commentary quoted in The Secret Doctrine.4

Because the meanings of the Ṛg-veda words and verses are often uncertain, I cite this hymn below in the original Sanskrit and then from all six available complete English translations of the Ṛg-veda. As may be seen, there are significant differences between the translations. In verse 2, the first verse in which the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas occurs, four of the translations say that Savitar arouses or establishes or inspires the immortal and the mortal, while two say that Savitar lays to rest or brings to rest the immortal and the mortal. The Sanskrit word is niveśayan, a present participle. Yet the same basic word as it occurs in verse 1, the noun niveśanīṃ, is translated there by all six in the sense of brings to rest. The parallel passages in Ṛg-veda 4.53.3, 4.53.6, 6.71.2, and 7.45.1, contrasting niveśayan or niveśana, “bringing to rest,” with prasuvan or prasava, “bringing to life, arousing,” show that brings to rest is the correct meaning of niveśayan.5 Then, for the phrase, ā kṛṣṇena rajasā vartamāno, “coming through the dark realm,” the same verse as it appears in the Black Yajur-veda Taittirīya-saṃhitā has the noteworthy variant satyena in place of kṛṣṇena, “coming through the realm of truth.”

There are also differences of translation in verse 4, the second verse in which the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas occurs (here in the plural: kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi), and uncertainty of meaning. We have a double accusative in the fourth metrical foot, kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi, “dark realms,” and taviṣīṃ, “strength, power, might.” Since the present participle dadhānaḥ is from the verb-root dhā (“put or place, bear or hold or support”), which does not take a double accusative (two objects), we know that some other grammatical case was intended for one of these but could not be written because of fitting the meter. The various translations take this phrase variously, usually supplying a different grammatical case for kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi, and taking taviṣīṃ as the actual accusative and object of the participle dadhānaḥ. None of the six translations takes kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi as the actual accusative and object of the participle dadhānaḥ, and supplies the instrumental case to taviṣī, as does the commentator Veṅkaṭa-mādhava: “Savitar . . . supporting the dark realms with [his] power.” This understanding agrees with the parallel passage in Ṛg-veda 1.166.4, where rajas is in the accusative case and taviṣī is in the instrumental case: rajāṃsi taviṣībhir (both plural).6

In verse 9, the third verse in which the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas occurs, the meaning is also uncertain. The phrase in which it occurs, abhi kṛṣṇena rajasā dyām ṛṇoti, is again taken differently in the different translations. Is it that Savitar “overspreads the sky with gloom, alternating radiance” (Wilson), or “spreads the bright sky through the darksome region” (Griffith), or “overspreads the sky, extending from the dark interspace to the celestial region” (Sarasvati and Vidyalankar), or “From the dark lower worlds, he attains the supreme station” (Kashyap), or “He inspires Soorya to cover the black, dark sky” (Gautam), or “he reaches to heaven through the black realm” (Jamison and Brereton), or something else? In relation to the verb ṛṇoti, “goes,” is the separated verbal prefix abhi here to be understood in its meaning “over, all around,” thus giving the sense of “overspreads, pervades”? So the commentator Sāyaṇa understands it, sarvato vyāpnoti, “pervades all around,” followed by Wilson, Griffith, Sarasvati/Vidyalankar, and Gautam. Or with “goes” is it to be understood in its meaning “to,” thus giving the sense of “reaches, attains”? So Kashyap and Jamison/Brereton understand it. Also, is there some reason why the phrase kṛṣṇena rajasā, which is declined in the instrumental case, “through the dark realm,” should be taken in some other sense? Half of the translations do this: Sarasvati/Vidyalankar and Kashyap take it as “from the dark realm,” while Gautam appears to take it as if in the accusative case.


Complete English Translations of the Ṛg-veda

The first ever English translation of the Ṛg-veda was made by Horace Hayman Wilson and published in six volumes starting in 1850. It closely follows the Sanskrit commentary thereon by Sāyaṇa, who lived in the fourteenth century C.E. Although Sāyaṇa lived long after the time of the Vedas, his commentaries on the Vedas became the standard ones because earlier commentaries were lost.

The next English translation of the Ṛg-veda was made by Ralph T. H. Griffith and published in four volumes starting in 1889. By then, Western scholars had largely rejected Sāyaṇa’s commentary as being an untrustworthy guide to what the much older Ṛg-veda words and verses actually meant, and had attempted to interpret the Ṛg-veda by internal word studies, comparative linguistics, etc. Griffith utilized this Western scholarship on the Ṛg-veda as well as Sāyaṇa’s commentary in his translation into metrical English. Note that, just as the Vedic Rishis sometimes had to sacrifice correct grammar and clear meaning in order to fit the meter, so Griffith sometimes had to adapt his wording in order to have the number of English syllables required for his metrical translation.

An English translation of the Ṛg-veda by Satya Prakash Sarasvati and Satyakam Vidyalankar was published in India, 1977-1987, 13 volumes in 12 (vols. 5 and 6 are bound in one). It follows the Arya Samaj understanding of the Vedas, in which the various Vedic gods, Agni, Indra, Varuṇa, etc., are merely various names for the one God. Thus it substitutes simply “God” for the various Vedic gods. Other than this and a relatively small number of other things, this translation to a large extent copies Wilson’s translation, sometimes adopting his wording and sometimes re-phrasing it.

An English translation of the Ṛg-veda by R. L. Kashyap was published in India, 2004-2009, 10 volumes in 12 (vol. 1 is in 3 parts). It incorporates the psychological interpretation put forth by Sri Aurobindo and used by T. V. Kapali Sastry in his unfinished Ṛg-veda commentary. Kashyap provides a descriptive English title to this hymn, “Savitṛ Establishes the Worlds,” indicating that he understands it differently than as a description of the sun in its course through day and night.

An English translation of the Ṛg-veda by a team of six scholars in Nepal led by Prasanna Chandra Gautam was published in Nepal in 2012, and then in India in 2014, in four volumes. It is titled, Modern English Translation of the Rig Veda Samhitaa, since it tries to use contemporary language. It is the first translation to accompany the Sanskrit text and English translation with word by word meanings, thus showing how each word was taken in this translation.

Not until 2014 was another English translation of the Ṛg-veda produced by Western scholarship. In the meantime, Western scholarship relied on the 1951 German translation of the Ṛg-veda by Karl Geldner. The 2014 English translation by Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, in three volumes, is now the standard translation of the Ṛg-veda.

Below is Ṛg-veda 1.35 in the original Sanskrit, followed by, in sequence, the English translations of H. H. Wilson (1850), of Ralph T. H. Griffith (1889), of Satya Prakash Sarasvati and Satyakam Vidyalankar (1977), of R. L. Kashyap (2009), of Prasanna Chandra Gautam (2012), and of Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton (2014). The phrase kṛṣṇa rajas, translated as “dark space” by Suryakanta in his Vedic dictionary, occurs in verses 2, 4, and 9. As may be seen, Wilson translates this phrase as “darkened firmament,” “darkness,” and “gloom,” Griffith as “dusky firmament,” and “darksome region,” Sarasvati/Vidyalankar as “obscure regions,” “darkness from the regions,” and “dark interspace,” Kashyap as “dark path,” “inertia of the worlds,” and “dark lower worlds,” Gautam as “dark heavens,” and “black, dark,” and Jamison/Brereton as “black realm.”


Ṛg-veda 1.35, to Savitar

hvayāmy agnim prathamaṃ svastaye hvayāmi mitrā-varuṇāv ihâvase |
hvayāmi rātrīṃ jagato niveśanīṃ hvayāmi devaṃ savitāram ūtaye || 1 ||

1. I invoke Agni first, for protection: I invoke, for protection, Mitra and Varuṇa: I invoke Night, who brings rest to the world: I invoke the divine Savitṛi, for my preservation. [Wilson]

1. Agni I first invoke for our prosperity; I call on Mitra, Varuṇa, to aid us here. I call on Night who gives rest to all moving life; I call on Savitar the God to lend us help. [Griffith]

1. I invoke the foremost adorable God for well-being; I invoke Nature’s other bounties such as the pair of lightning and clouds for protection. I invoke the night which brings rest to the world and I invoke the sun for prosperity. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

1. First I invoke Agni for our happy state. I invoke Mitra and Varuṇa to guard the yajña. I invoke the night, the support of the mobile world. I invoke Savitṛ for our increase. [Kashyap]

1. I call Agni first for our welfare. I call Mitra and Varuna for protection. I call the goddess Raatri, the giver of rest to the world. I call god Sabitaa for protection. [Gautam]

1. I invoke Agni first, for well-being; I invoke Mitra and Varuṇa here, for help. I invoke Night, who brings to rest the moving; I invoke god Savitar, for aid. [Jamison and Brereton]

ā kṛṣṇena rajasā vartamāno niveśayann amṛtaṃ martyaṃ ca |
hiraṇyayena savitā rathenâ devo yāti bhuvanāni paśyan || 2 ||

2. Revolving through the darkened firmament, arousing mortal and immortal, the divine Savitṛi travels in his golden chariot, beholding the (several) worlds. [Wilson]

2. Throughout the dusky firmament advancing, laying to rest the immortal and the mortal, Borne in his golden chariot he cometh, Savitar, God who looks on every creature. [Griffith]

2. The refulgent sun, springing through the obscure regions, arousing mortal and immortal, beholding the several worlds, comes as if mounted on a golden chariot. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

2. Moving along the dark path, duly establishing the immortal and the mortal, God Savitṛ comes in his golden car, beholding the worlds. [Kashyap]

2. The god Sabitaa comes continually on his golden chariot from the dark heavens, looking at all the regions, inspiring the mortals and the immortals (to righteousness). [Gautam]

2. Turning hither through the black realm, bringing to rest the immortal and the mortal, with his golden chariot Savitar the god drives here, gazing upon the creatures. [Jamison and Brereton]

yāti devaḥ pravatā yāty udvatā yāti śubhrābhyāṃ yajato haribhyām |
ā devo yāti savitā parāvato ‘pa viśvā duritā bādhamānaḥ || 3 ||

3. The divine Savitṛi travels by an upward and by a downward path: a deserving adoration, he journeys with two white horses: he comes hither, from a distance, removing all sins. [Wilson]

3. The God moves by the upward path, the downward; with two bright Bays, adorable, he journeys. Savitar comes, the God from the far distance, and chases from us all distress and sorrow. [Griffith]

3. The self-effulgent sun travels by an upward and by a downward path, deserving adoration. It journeys on two white horses (northern and southern solstices); it comes hither from a distance removing all darkness. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

3. The God Savitṛ moves by the downward path, and the upward. Master of yajña, he comes with his two white horses. The god Savitṛ comes from the realm of beyond, destroying all evils. [Kashyap]

3. The venerated god Sabitaa comes from far by two white horses, destroying the entire misery. He goes through the slope. He goes through the incline. [Gautam]

3. The god drives on a downward slope; he drives on an upward one; he drives with two resplendent fallow bays, he who is worthy of the sacrifice. God Savitar drives hither from afar, thrusting away all obstacles. [Jamison and Brereton]

abhīvṛtaṃ kṛśanair viśva-rūpaṃ hiraṇya-śamyaṃ yajato bṛhantam |
âsthād rathaṃ savitā citra-bhānuḥ kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi taviṣīṃ dadhānaḥ || 4 ||

4. The many-rayed adorable Savitṛi, having power (to disperse) darkness from the world, has mounted his nigh-standing chariot, decorated with many kinds of golden ornaments, and furnished with golden yokes. [Wilson]

4. His chariot decked with pearl, of various colours, lofty, with golden pole, the God hath mounted, The many-rayed One, Savitar the holy, bound, bearing power and might, for darksome regions. [Griffith]

4. The many-rayed effulgent sun, having power to dispel darkness from the regions, comes mounted on a lofty, high-standing, well-decorated golden chariot, and furnished with golden yokes. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

4. Savitṛ, the master of yajña, rich in lustres mounts the vast car. The golden car with universal form, with golden yoke is nearby. He bears the might to disperse the inertia of the worlds. [Kashyap]

4. The venerated Sabitaa with unique glow, with all his might aiming at the dark heavens, ascended the gold plated big chariot of many forms with golden yoke. [Gautam]

4. (It is) covered over with pearls, having every beauty, with golden yoke-pins, lofty—his chariot has bright-beamed Savitar mounted, (he) worthy of the sacrifice, having assumed his own power throughout the black realms. [Jamison and Brereton]

vi janāñ chyāvāḥ śiti-pādo akhyan rathaṃ hiraṇya-praugaṃ vahantaḥ |
śaśvad viśaḥ savitur daivyasyôpasthe viśvā bhuvanāni tasthuḥ || 5 ||

5. His white-footed coursers, harnessed to his car with a golden yoke, have manifested light to mankind. Men and all the regions are ever in the presence of the divine Savitṛi. [Wilson]

5. Drawing the gold-yoked car his Bays, white-footed, have manifested light to all the peoples. Held in the lap of Savitar, divine One, all men, all beings have their place for ever. [Griffith]

5. White beams, swift like the white-footed coursers, harnessed to the car with a golden yoke, have brought light to mankind. Men and all regions are ever in the close presence of this effulgent sun. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

5. The tawny steeds with white feet reveal the light, to the peoples who stand continuously near the divine Savitṛ; the persons in all other worlds (continue to be in the darkness). The steeds draw the car with the golden yoke. [Kashyap]

5. The entire regions and men live in the lap of Sabitaa of the heavens. The white footed horses, pulling the chariot with the golden joint of yoke for harnessing, always illuminate the men. [Gautam]

5. The dusky (horses) with white feet have looked out across the peoples, while drawing his chariot with its golden forepole. The clans, all the creatures ever abide in the lap of divine Savitar. [Jamison and Brereton]

tisro dyāvaḥ savitur dvā upasthāṃ ekā yamasya bhuvane virāṣāṭ |
āṇiṃ na rathyam amṛtâdhi tasthur iha bravītu ya u tac ciketat || 6 ||

6. Three are the spheres: two are in the proximity of Savitṛi, one leads men to the dwelling of Yama. The immortal (luminaries) depend upon Savitṛi; as a car, upon the pin of the axle. Let him who knows (the greatness of Savitṛi) declare it. [Wilson]

6. Three heavens there are; two Savitar’s, adjacent: in Yama’s world is one, the home of heroes, As on a linch-pin, firm, rest things immortal: he who hath known it let him here declare it. [Griffith]

6. Three are the luminaries—two (terrestrial and celestial) are in the proximity of the effulgent sun, and the third one somewhere beyond the space for the liberated souls. These first two luminaries depend on the sun as a chariot upon the pin of its axle. Let him who knows (this truth) declare it (to others). [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

6. Of the three worlds of light, two are in the proximity of Savitṛ. The third is the dwelling of the all-ruling Sūrya. The immortal Gods stay resorting to Savitṛ, as the car on the linchpin. Let him who knows declare the secrets of Savitṛ. [Kashyap]

6. There are three heavens; two are near the sun; one is in the region of Yama. Let him, who understands that the immortal constellations surround the chariot of Sabitaa like the pin of the axle, declare this here. [Gautam]

6. There are three heavens: two are the laps of Savitar, one is the hero-vanquishing one in the world of Yama. Like a chariot (wheel) on the axle-pin, the (creatures) have taken their place on his immortal (foundations?).—Whoever will perceive this, let him declare it here. [Jamison and Brereton]

vi suparṇo antarikṣāṇy akhyad gabhīra-vepā asuraḥ sunīthaḥ |
kvêdānīṃ sūryaḥ kaś ciketa katamāṃ dyāṃ raśmir asyâ tatāna || 7 ||

7. Suparṇa, (the solar ray), deep-quivering, life-bestowing, well-directed, has illuminated the three regions. Where, now, is Sūrya? Who knows to what sphere his rays have extended? [Wilson]

7. He, strong of wing, hath lightened up the regions, deep-quivering Asura, the gentle Leader. Where now is Sūrya, where is one to tell us to what celestial sphere his ray hath wandered? [Griffith]

7. The solar ray illuminates the three regions (celestial, interspace and terrestrial), is deep-quivering, life-bestowing and is well-directed. Where now is the sun, the source of these radiations? Who knows to what sphere his rays have extended? [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

7. The happy-winged ray (of Sun) lights up the higher region. (Rays are) profound of sight, powerful, and lead to the felicities of light. Where is now Sūrya? Who knows? What heavenly regions are pervaded by this ray? [Kashyap]

7. Soorya, the giver of life, vibrant, the guide showing the best way, with fine rays illuminated the heavens. Where is he now? To which region have his rays spread? Who knows thus? [Gautam]

7. The eagle has surveyed the midspaces—the lord possessing profound inspiration, who gives good guidance. Where now is the sun? Who perceives it? To which one of the heavens does his rein extend? [Jamison and Brereton]

aṣṭau vy akhyat kakubhaḥ pṛthivyās trī dhanva yojanā sapta sindhūn |
hiraṇyâkṣaḥ savitā deva âgād dadhad ratnā dāśuṣe vāryāṇi || 8 ||

8. He has lighted up the eight points of the horizon, the three regions of living beings, the seven rivers. May the golden-eyed Savitṛi come hither, bestowing upon the offerer of the oblation desirable riches. [Wilson]

8. The earth’s eight points his brightness hath illumined, three desert regions and the Seven Rivers. God Savitar the gold-eyed hath come hither, giving choice treasures unto him who worships. [Griffith]

8. He (the sun) has lighted up the eight points of the horizon (east, north, west, south, and the four at corners), the three regions of the living beings, the seven galaxies. May the golden-eyed sun come hither. May he bestow worthy riches on the Nature’s lover. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

8. He lighted up the eight quarters; illumined the three terrestrial desert regions, and the seven streams. Thus arrived, God Savitṛ with the golden sight, gives special ecstasies to the giver. [Kashyap]

8. The god Sabitaa illuminates the three heavens connecting all eight quarters and also the seven oceans. The golden-eyed comes bearing superior wealth for the generous giver. [Gautam]

8. The eight humps of the earth he has surveyed, the three wastelands three wagon-treks (wide), the seven rivers. Golden-eyed god Savitar has come hither, establishing desirable treasures for the pious man. [Jamison and Brereton]

hiraṇya-pāṇiḥ savitā vicarṣaṇir ubhe dyāvā-pṛthivī antar īyate |
apâmīvāṃ bādhate veti sūryam abhi kṛṣṇena rajasā dyām ṛṇoti || 9 ||

9. The golden-handed, all-beholding Savitṛi travels between the two regions of heaven and earth, dispels diseases, approaches the sun, and overspreads the sky with gloom, alternating radiance. [Wilson]

9. The golden-handed Savitar, far-seeing, goes on his way between the earth and heaven, Drives away sickness, bids the Sun approach us, and spreads the bright sky through the darksome region. [Griffith]

9. The gold-handed, all-beholding luminary travels between the two regions of heaven and earth, dispels diseases, and this, verily, is known as the sun, and it finally overspreads the sky, extending from the dark interspace to the celestial region. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

9. Golden-handed, all-beholding, God Savitṛ, moves between the Earth and Heaven. He dispels distress and attains the supreme Sun. From the dark lower worlds, he attains the supreme station. [Kashyap]

9. The golden handed, all-seeing Sabitaa goes to the middle of heaven and earth. He dispels disease. He inspires Soorya to cover the black, dark sky. [Gautam]

9. Golden-palmed Savitar, whose boundaries are distant, shuttles between both, both heaven and earth. He thrusts away affliction; he pursues the sun; he reaches to heaven through the black realm. [Jamison and Brereton]

hiraṇya-hasto asuraḥ sunīthaḥ sumṛḷīkaḥ svavāṃ yātv arvāṅ |
apasedhan rakṣaso yātu-dhānān asthād devaḥ pratidoṣaṃ gṛṇānaḥ || 10 ||

10. May the golden-handed, life-bestowing, well-guiding, exhilarating, and affluent Savitṛi be present (at the sacrifice); for the deity, if worshipped in the evening, is at hand, driving away Rākshasas and Yātudhānas. [Wilson]

10. May he, gold-handed Asura, kind Leader, come hither to us with his help and favour. Driving off Rākṣasas and Yātudhānas, the God is present, praised in hymns at evening. [Griffith]

10. May the golden-handed, life-bestowing, well-guiding, exhilarating, and affluent sun be present with us at the place of worship. The solar radiations drive away worms and germs, particularly in the evening, if duly utilized. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

10. May the golden-handed and mighty person, well-guiding and rich, come in front, making us happy. Repelling the demonic Yātudhāna-s, the God is present (in the house) accepting the lauds every night. [Kashyap]

10. May the golden handed, giver of life, the guide, pleasant, rich, god come before us. He is prayed every night. That god remains driving away the hurtful demons. [Gautam]

10. The golden-handed lord of good guidance, of good grace, of good help—let him drive in our direction. Repelling demons and sorcerers, the god has taken his place facing evening, while being hymned. [Jamison and Brereton]

ye te panthāḥ savitaḥ pūrvyāso ‘reṇavaḥ sukṛtā antarikṣe |
tebhir no adya pathibhiḥ sugebhī rakṣā ca no adhi ca brūhi deva || 11 ||

11. Thy paths, Savitṛi, are prepared of old, are free from dust, and well-placed in the firmament. (Coming) by those paths, easy to be traversed, preserve us to-day. Deity, speak to us. [Wilson]

11. O Savitar, thine ancient dustless pathways are well established in the air’s mid-region: O God, come by those paths so fair to travel, preserve thou us from harm this day, and bless us. [Griffith]

11. O sun, your paths are set from olden days; they are free from dust, and well-determined in space. May you travel along these paths, unobstructed and preserve us day-to-day. O effulgent, may you bless us. [Sarasvati and Vidyalankar]

11. O Savitṛ, (come) now to us by the ancient paths, (which are) in the midworld, perfected and dustless, well-laid and easy to traverse. O God, guard us and speak to us. [Kashyap]

11. O Sabitaa! Your ancient dust free ways in the sky have been made well. Come for us today through these ways which are easy to travel. O god! Save us and give blessing to us, too. [Gautam]

11. Your age-old paths, Savitar, dustless, well-made in the midspace, along these easily passable paths (come) to us today. Both guard us and speak on our behalf, o god. [Jamison and Brereton]


There is another Ṛg-veda verse that has both words kṛṣṇa and rajas, but separated. This is verse 1 of hymn 6.9 addressed to Agni. Here rajas is twofold (rajasī, in the dual), the dark half of a day and the bright half of a day.

ahaś ca kṛṣṇam ahar arjunaṃ ca vi vartete rajasī vedyābhiḥ |
vaiśvānaro jāyamāno na rājâvâtiraj jyotiṣâgnis tamāṃsi || 6.9.1 || (to Agni)

6.9.1. One half of day is dark, and bright the other: both atmospheres [rajas] move on by sage devices. Agni Vaiśvānara, when born as Sovran, hath with his lustre overcome the darkness. [Griffith]

The usage of the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas as apparently the night sky in hymn 1.35, verses 2 and 9 (in the singular), agrees with the usage of rajas as the dark half of a day. Ṛg-veda 6.9.1 also applies the word rajas to the bright half of a day. As is well known, the days and nights of Brahmā spoken of in Indian tradition refer to the manifestation and dissolution of the cosmos. The phrase “bright space son of dark space” from Book of Dzyan 3.7 refers to the manifestation of the cosmos from its period of dissolution, its night. Neither Ṛg-veda 1.35 nor Ṛg-veda 6.9 are cosmogonic hymns, which we have very few of in the Ṛg-veda. When speaking of cosmogony, the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas could easily be used in an ancient such text, alluding to the night of the cosmos. I think that kṛṣṇa rajas is very likely the Sanskrit phrase behind “dark space” in Blavatsky’s translation of Book of Dzyan 3.7.



1. The other occurrence of the phrase kṛṣṇa rajas in the Ṛg-veda is in hymn 8.43, addressed to Agni, verse 6. Here the two commentators Sāyaṇa and Veṅkaṭa-mādhava gloss the plural rajāṃsi as pāṃsavaḥ, “dust.” In accordance with this, five of the six available English translations take rajas here in its meaning “dust” rather than “space, firmament, region, world, the heavens, realm.” Thus, for example, Griffith translates: “the dust is black beneath his feet.” Only the Jamison/Brereton translation remains consistent with the meaning given for kṛṣṇa rajas in hymn 1.35, “black realm”:

kṛṣṇā rajāṃsi patsutaḥ prayāṇe jātavedasaḥ |
agnir yad rodhati kṣami || 8.43.6 || (to Agni)

8.43.6. Black are the realms at the feet of Jātavedas on his advance, when Agni grows on the earth. [Jamison and Brereton]


2. Universe in Vedic Thought,” in India Maior, 1972, p. 100, fn. 4.


3. This reference was provided by my friend Eric Fallick.


4. The word rajas is specifically used in an excerpt from the secret “Commentaries” given in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, pp. 621-622 (the reference to Atharva-veda 10.105 should be Ṛg-veda 10.105.7). There it refers to the three worlds, as it sometimes does in the Vedas. See, for example, Ṛg-veda 4.53.5 and 5.69.1:

trir antarikṣaṃ savitā mahitvanā trī rajāṃsi paribhus trīṇi rocanā |
tisro divaḥ pṛthivīs tisra invati tribhir vratair abhi no rakṣati tmanā || 4.53.5 || (to Savitar)

4.53.5. Savitar thrice surrounding with his mightiness mid-air, three regions, and the triple sphere of light, Sets the three heavens in motion and the threefold earth, and willingly protects us with his triple law. [Griffith]

4.53.5. Savitar (encompasses) the midspace three times in his greatness; he encompasses the three dusky realms and the three realms of light. He speeds the three heavens and the three earths. With his three commandments he guards us by himself. [Jamison and Brereton]

trī rocanā varuṇa trīṃr uta dyūn trīṇi mitra dhārayatho rajāṃsi |
vāvṛdhānāv amatiṃ kṣatriyasyânu vrataṃ rakṣamāṇāv ajuryam || 5.69.1 || (to Mitra-Varuṇa)

5.69.1. Three spheres of light, O Varuṇa, three heavens, three firmaments ye comprehend, O Mitra: Waxed strong, ye keep the splendour of dominion, guarding the Ordinance that lasts for ever. [Griffith]

5.69.1. The three realms of light and the three heavens, the three airy spaces do you two uphold, o Varuṇa and Mitra, strengthening the emblem of your lordship, protecting your unaging commandment. [Jamison and Brereton]

Elsewhere in The Secret Doctrine, in a footnote (vol. 2, p. 385), Blavatsky refers to the six worlds, using the word rajas in the plural, rajāṃsi. This is as in Ṛg-veda 1.164.6:

acikitvāñ cikituṣaś cid atra kavīn pṛcchāmi vidmane na vidvān |
vi yas tastambha ṣaḷ imā rajāṃsy ajasya rūpe kim api svid ekam || 1.164.6 || (to the Viśvedevas)

1.164.6. I ask, unknowing, those who know, the Sages, as one all-ignorant for the sake of knowledge: Who is that Mysterious One, in the form of the Unborn, who has established these Six Regions. [translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Vision in Long Darkness, 1963]

1.164.6 Unperceptive, I ask also the perceptive poets about this in order to know, since I am unknowing: What also is the One in the form of the Unborn [=the Sun] that has propped apart these six realms (of heaven and earth)? [Jamison and Brereton]


5. Savitar niveśayan prasuvan:

āprā rajāṃsi divyāni pārthivā ślokaṃ devaḥ kṛṇute svāya dharmaṇe |
pra bāhū asrāk savitā savīmani niveśayan prasuvann aktubhir jagat || 4.53.3 || (to Savitar)

4.53.3. He hath filled full the regions of the heaven and earth: the God for his own strengthening waketh up the hymn. Savitar hath stretched out his arms to cherish life, producing with his rays and lulling all that moves. [Griffith]

4.53.3. He has filled the heavenly and earthly realms. The god makes his signal-call to support his own. Savitar has stretched forth his two arms, at his impulsion causing the moving world to settle down and impelling it forth through the nights. [Jamison and Brereton]

Savitar prasavītā niveśano:

bṛhatsumnaḥ prasavītā niveśano jagata sthātur ubhayasya yo vaśī |
sa no devaḥ savitā śarma yacchatv asme kṣayāya trivarūtham aṃhasaḥ || 4.53.6 ||

4.53.6. Most gracious God, who brings to life and lulls to rest, he who controls the world, what moves not and what moves, May he vouchsafe us shelter,—Savitar the God,—for tranquil life, with triple bar against distress. [Griffith]

4.53.6. Possessing lofty benevolence, the one who impels forth and causes to settle down, who exerts his will over both the moving world and the stationary, let him, god Savitar, hold out to us shelter providing threefold protection against distress for us and for our dwelling place. [Jamison and Brereton]

Savitar niveśane prasave ca:

devasya vayaṃ savituḥ savīmani śreṣṭhe syāma vasunaś ca dāvane |
yo viśvasya dvipado yaś catuṣpado niveśane prasave câsi bhūmanaḥ || 6.71.2 || (to Savitar)

6.71.2. May we enjoy the noblest vivifying force of Savitar the God, that he may give us wealth: For thou art mighty to produce and lull to rest the world of life that moves on two feet and on four. [Griffith]

6.71.2. May we be (there) at the best impulsion of the god Savitar and for his giving of goods—you [=Savitar] who are (busy) at bringing to rest and at impelling forth the whole two-footed and four-footed creation. [Jamison and Brereton]

Savitar niveśayañ ca prasuvañ ca:

ā devo yātu savitā suratno ‘ntarikṣaprā vahamāno aśvaiḥ |
haste dadhāno naryā purūṇi niveśayañ ca prasuvañ ca bhūma || 7.45.1 || (to Savitar)

7.45.1. May the God Savitar, rich in goodly treasures, filling the region, borne by steeds, come hither, In his hand holding much that makes men happy, lulling to slumber and arousing creatures. [Griffith]

7.45.1. Let god Savitar drive here, possessed of good treasure, filling the midspace, journeying with his horses, holding many things meant for men in his hand, bring the world to rest and impelling it forth. [Jamison and Brereton]


6. The Maruts ā avyata, “traverse” (Wilson, Kashyap), or “have stirred up” (Griffith), or “move through” (Sarasvati/Vidyalankar), or “cover well” (Gautam), or “enveloped” (Jamison/Brereton) the rajāṃsi, “regions, realms, worlds,” by or with their taviṣībhir, “strength, power, might”:

yasmā ūmāso amṛtā arāsata rāyas poṣaṃ ca haviṣā dadāśuṣe |
ukṣanty asmai maruto hitā iva purū rajāṃsi payasā mayobhuvaḥ || 1.166.3 ||
ā ye rajāṃsi taviṣībhir avyata pra va evāsaḥ svayatāso adhrajan |
bhayante viśvā bhuvanāni harmyā citro vo yāmaḥ prayatāsv ṛṣṭiṣu || 1.166.4 || (to the Maruts)

1.166.3. To whomsoever, bringer of oblations, they immortal guardians, have given plenteous wealth, For him, like loving friends, the Maruts bringing bliss bedew the regions round with milk abundantly.

1.166.4. Ye who with mighty powers have stirred the regions up, your coursers have sped forth directed by themselves. All creatures of the earth, all dwellings are afraid, for brilliant is your coming with your spears advanced. [Griffith]

1.166.3. To whom the immortal helpers have given riches and prosperity—to the man who does pious service with oblation—for him the Maruts, like (steeds) spurred on, sprinkle the many realms with milk—they are joy itself.

1.166.4. Of you who with your powers enveloped the realms—your spontaneous dashes swooped forth. All creatures and habitations take fright. Brilliant is your course when your spears have been extended. [Jamison and Brereton]

Category: Book of Dzyan | 1 comment


BOOK of KIU-TE or BOOK of DZYAN – References and Quotes in H.P.B. Writings

By Jacques Mahnich on March 2, 2016 at 8:42 pm

The Source of the core teachings (Secret Doctrine & The Voice of Silence) transmitted by H.P.B. are said to emanate from an « Archaic Manuscript »1 . Many references to the Book of Dzyan, or the Book of Kiu-te are made throughout H.P.B. writings. A compilation of all H.P.B.quotes to these books is proposed here.

What do we learn from it ?

  • The book of Kiu-te is spelled with many different ways : Khiu-ti, Khiu-te, Khiu-tee, Kiu-ti, Kiu-te, Khinti
  • Quotes are sometimes very accurate regarding content and chapter numbering. Examples : “From Book IV of Kiu-ti, chapter on “the Laws of Upasana”, we learn that the qualifications expected in a Chela were : 1) Perfect physical health, 2) Absolute mental and physical purity, . . .” This looks like a Buddhism Vinaya text (Book of the Discipline).
  • Many quotes are extracted from the Commentaries. This is also a very common practice in Tibetan Buddhism Tradition to always provide with commentaries to all the core texts (sutra or tantra). In fact, “the Book of Dzyan – from the Sanskrit word “Dhyana” (mystic meditation) – is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name” (BCW XIV, page 422).
  • There are direct reference to book and chapter numbering, like :” To force oneself upon the current of immortality, or rather to secure for oneself an endless series of rebirths as conscious individualities – says the “Book of Khiu-te” volume xxxi” ; and Master K.H. added : “Chapter III” (H.P.B. Letters to A.P.Sinnett, page 372).

So, we have at least references to Book IV and volume xxxi, chapter III. Researches have not yet corroborate these informations with existing known books of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. But many more are surfacing in the Western world, including esoteric ones, previously unreachable. Latest example is “The Profound Inner Principles” by Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, with Jamgön Kongtrul Commentary. (2014). This text is giving extensive teachings on Inner Principles, with many references to key tantras like the Kalachakra, the Guyasamaja or the Hevajratantra.

Let’s keep digging ang digging,…

1S.D. 1888 Edition – page 1

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


The Dzogchen Tradition Teachings – A parallel with the S.D. Cosmogenesis

By Jacques Mahnich on February 17, 2016 at 10:10 pm

The Theosophical Teachings have been identified as linked to the Northern Buddhist scriptures, and at the same time not being Buddhist Teachings (David Reigle’s recent article – Theosophy and Buddhism – printed in Studies in the Wisdom Tradition – Eastern School Press, 2015). Many important differences are observed between the two traditions. One hypothesis has been proposed to reconcile them : that the Buddhism which is presented in the Theosophical teachings is a pre-Buddha Shakyamuni Buddhism tradition, i.e. which existed thousand of years before the Buddha of our era. The substantiation of this claim remains to be published. The history of Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition which was imported from India in the 7th century of our era with the arrival of Guru Rinpoche (Padma Sambhava) in Tibet, reveals many different lineages of teachers and teachings. The main ones are known as the Nyingmapas, the Sakyapas, the Kargyutpas, and the Gelugpas. A fifth one, which was ostracized and almost extincted in Tibet at their time was the Jonangpas, which David considered recently as maybe the closest possible corpus of teachings, specially vis-a-vis the Theosophical fundamental propositions (see The Doctrinal Position of the Wisdom Tradition : Great Madhyamaka). Part of the differences to be reconciled are linked to the cosmogenesis of human beings and cycles (modes of birth and races).

Among these five traditions, there is one which has not really being deeply researched among theosophists : the so-called “red-hat”, the Nyingma tradition. The main reason being probably the strong statement of HPB, considering them as no more than sorcerers (dugpas). Most of the scholars of the 19th century had also this opinion that their teachings was totally degraded by a mixing with the local tradition pre-Guru Rinpoche (Bön). But this tradition has a corpus of doctrine which deserves some of our attention. A good starting point would be the History & Fundamentals of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, written by Dudjom Rinpoche. Many root texts are now surfacing in Western language translation, like the Guhyagarbha Tantra (2011).

Inside the Nyingma Tradition there are 9 teachings corpus which are considered as different steps on the ladder of spirituality, to culminate with what is called the Ati-Yoga or Dzogchen Teachings.

These teachings support some uncommon ideas which have some parallel with Theosophy. Let’s explore it a little bit.

Dzogchen, an abbreviation of Dzogpa Chenpo, is a Tibetan term that means total completion, or perfection… Dzogchen is one of the various names, and currently best known together with atiyoga, or “yoga of primordial knowledge” (gdod ma’i rnal ‘byor)…

The traditional texts assert that the promulgation of the Dzogchen teachings is not limited to the human world. For example, the tantra The All-surpassing Sound (sGra thal ‘gyur) explains that it is found in no less than thirteen solar systems (thal ba) as well as our own, and describes minutely, albeit cryptically, the location of these worlds and the characteristics of the beings that inhabit them1. Much better known, on the other hand, is the tradition that states that Garab Dorje (the first teacher of Dzogchen Teachings) was preceded by twelve teachers (ston pa bcu gnyis), described in the texts as nirmanakayas of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara.”

Note : The most ancient reference to the tradition of the twelve teachers (ston pa bcu gnyis) is found in the tantra Rig pa rang shar2, but the first source to list the names of the twelve teachers together with the teachings they transmitted, etc., seems to be the Lo rgyus rin po che’i mdo byang, a chapter of the Bi ma snying thig contained in the g.Yu yig can section3

The following is a short description of the different periods of existence where the twelve teachers appeared : (Source : Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra – The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde ; Namkhai Norbu/Adriano Clemente)

1) At the time when the life span was incalculable, in the divine dimension called Gaden Tsegpa (Joyous Pagoda), all beings had bodies of light composed of the substance of the elements. They were born miraculously, did not wear clothes, and shone by their own light. To transmit the teaching to them, Buddha Vajradhara manifested as a white, eight-year-old child. His name was Khyeu Nangwa Mikhyappa (Supreme Child Inconceivable Vision).

2) …Thus came the epoch when the life span was ten million years. In the dimension called Sahâ the beings were now born from five-colored eggs composed of the substance of the elements. They were perfectly endowed with the senses and all the limbs, and were vigorous as sixteen-year-old youths. Tall as arrows, they were dressed in leaves and surrounded by a luminous aura. They all had miraculous powers and few passions, did not encounter material obstacles, and their food was of the substances of the four elements. Buddha Khyeu Wöd Mitruppa (Child Imperturbable Light) manifestyed as one of them.

3)… and the life span shortened further to one hundred thousand years. At that time, beings born from heat and humidity fell victim to the first illness, caused by the imbalance of the elements, and started to eat plants. In a place called Trödsher Düpa Wödkyil Pungpa (Mass of Light that Gathers Humidity) there was born among them Buddha Jigpa Kyoppai Yid (Mind that Protects from Fear).

4) The life span became even shorter, and the passions were becoming ever stronger. Beings’ bodies lost their light and thus the sun and the moon appeared. When the average life span had become eighty thousand years, because of desire and attachment the sexual organs sprouted forth,… and finally beings coupled and procreated… In that epoch, in the place called Chagjung Ngaldu Nangwa (Apparition in the Womb of Conception), Buddha Zhönnu Rolpa Nampar Tsewa (Young Manifestation of Compassion) was born from the uterus, like everybody else, in the form of a ten-year-old child.

5) When the average life span became sixty thousand years, in the dimension of the Thirty-three Gods, the Buddha Sixth Vajradhara was born as a divine Bodhisattva. In the enchanting garden of the Young Doctor (Tsho byed gzhon nu) he transmitted to the seven heroic Buddhas of our epoch teachings on the six, three, and eighteen paramitas that embraces methods both with and without effort, including the tantras of Dzogpa Chenpo. After having remained among the devas for seventy-five years, he entered parinirvâna where he was absorbed in samadhi for seven thousand years.

6) After seven thousand years he reawakened, and moved by compassion towards beings, he was reborn as the son of a yaksa and a fierce dâkini in the dimension of the Cemetery of the Secret Manifestation in the terrifying place of the yaksas northeast of Mount Meru… His name was Zhönnu Pawo Tobden (Young Powerful Hero). He taught to the seven Bodhisattvas the Tantra of the Spontaneous State of Pure Presence (Rig pa rang shar) and other tantras4. He remained among them for a thousand years, and he entered parinirvana. He remained in samadhi for one hundred thousand years.

7) When the average life span had become ten thousand years, he reawakened from his samadhi and was reborn in the dimension of the râksasas on earth. He was called Trangson Tröpai Gyalpo (Wise Wrathful King) and he transmitted the “ten tantras to subjugate gross negativities” and other teachings5. At the end of his life he became reabsorbed in samadhi. He remained so for fifty thousand years.

8) The average life span became five thousand years, and in the place on this earth called Vulture Peak he was reborn in a royal family and was named Ser Wöd Tampa (Supreme Golden Light)… He transmitted the Vinaya and Prajnaparamita teachings to countless shravakas.

9) When the average life span became one thousand years, in the land called Yui Minmachen (With Turquoise Eyebrows) in northern Mongolia, Tsewe Rolpai Lodrö (Intelligence Manifestation of Compassion) was born. To his disciples, he transmitted the “seven special tantras”, including The All-creating King (Kun byed rgyal po) and Total Space (Nam mkha’ che)6. He remained there one hundred and twenty years.

10) When the average life span became five hundred years, from the world of the Thirty-three Gods, Buddha Kâsyapa the Elder chose to take birth in the human world to alleviate the suffering of old age. So in the place called Vulture Peak, he gave many teachings, including the anuyoga scriptures to seven disciples who had taken on the form of arhats. He remained there seventy-five years and then went to practice asceticism for seven years. At the end of his life, he left no mortal remains; dissolving into a body of light.

11) When the average life span became three hundred years Buddha Ngöndzog Gyalpo (Perfected King), the son of a brahmin expert in the Vedas, was born at Vajrasana (Bodhgaya). To the Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani he transmitted all the teachings regarding the real conditions and other tantras. After having taught for twenty-five years, he entered parinirvana manifesting the ordinary signs of death in order to display to his disciples of lower capacity the truth of the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

12) When the average life span became one hundred years, Buddha Sakyamuni was born as the son of King Suddhodana. At Varanasi and other places he taught the four noble truths and the diverse gradual paths and accomplished twelve great deeds.

In this way, the primordial Buddha took on twelve forms in order to transmit the teaching in accordance with the infinite conditions and capacities of beings. (end of quote)


So, we have here references to various modes of human birth, cycles based on human life duration, and reference to the primordial Buddha (Adi-Buddha or Samantabhadra). He is described as : “Without beginning, middle or end, and indivisible, It is neither two, nor three, taintless and without thought.” (Supreme Continuum of the Greater Vehicle – Ch. 2, v.58ab).

Notes :

1Sgra thal ‘gyur (Rin po che ‘byung bar byed pa sgra thal ‘gyur chen po’i rgyud), in rNying ma’i rgyud bcu bdun, vol.I, pp. 1-205, Delhi 1973

2Rig pa rang shar chen po’i rgyud, in rNyinm ma’i rgyud bcu bdun, vol. I, pp. 389-855, Delhi 1989

3Lo rgyus rin po che’i mdo byang, belonging to the g.Yu yig can section of the Bi ma sNying thig, part two (Ja), pp. 162-233. In sNying thig ya bzhi, edited by Klong chen pa (Klong chen rab ‘byams pa) (1308-1363), vol. 8, Delhi 1971

4The Ma rig mun sel specifies that he taught the father tantra as the outer teaching, the mother tantras as the inner teaching, the Rig pa rang shar as the secret teaching, and the ‘Khor ‘das rang grol as the supreme teaching.

5Among the ten tantras to subjugate gross negativities (rags pa ‘dul ba’i rgyud bcu) the Ma rig mun sel mentions the tantras of Hayagriva, of Vajrakilaya, of Yamantaka, of Ekajati, etc.

6Although it does not mention the “seven special tantras” (phra bdun rgyud), the Ma rig mun sel quotes, among others, the following titles : Kun byed rgyal po, Khu dbyug rol pa, Sems lung chen mo, Kun tu bzang po che ba rang la gnas pa, Nam mkha’ che, Chub pas rol pa, Ye shes mchog, ‘Khor lo gcod pa, Thig le bra rgyud, ‘Bar ba chen po, Nor bu phra bkod.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment


Secret Doctrine References

By David Reigle on January 24, 2016 at 5:30 pm

As many students of The Secret Doctrine know, H. P. Blavatsky often did not give references to material that she used in writing this book. An extensive listing of Secret Doctrine references for volume 1 is given on the website of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, or Theosophical University Press: http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sdrefs/sdrefs-hp.htm. An extensive supplement to this listing was prepared by William (Bill) Savage a couple years ago, and will eventually be incorporated into it. In the meantime, it has not been available. Bill has kindly given permission to make it available here: Secret Doctrine References, vol. 1, William Savage.

Not only are these references very helpful for getting more information about things that Blavatsky wrote about in The Secret Doctrine, they also fill another need. Most books written before 1888 have long since been superseded by more accurate books as the world’s knowledge increases. By ascertaining the sources of her various statements, we can distinguish her own material from that of others that she copied to annotate her own material. What she copied from other writers of her time is often erroneous. Her own material, frequently coming from her esoteric sources, pertains to timeless knowledge.

Thus the stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan,” coming from her esoteric sources, pertain to timeless knowledge; while some of her annotations on them that she copied from writers of her time, now superseded by more accurate knowledge, are erroneous. Since these annotations are often unreferenced, the reader does not know what is her own material and what is copied from others. The extensive references provided by the Theosophical University Press and by William Savage, tracing a large number of otherwise unreferenced passages to their sources, are of very great value to students of The Secret Doctrine.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment


Anthropogenesis in the Stanzas of Dzyan Webinar

By David Reigle on January 9, 2016 at 6:05 pm

An online webinar on the anthropogenesis stanzas from the Book of Dzyan found in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, will be starting on Jan. 11, 2016. More specifically, it will use as a course textbook the commentary on these stanzas titled, Man, Son of Man, written by Sri Madhava Ashish, and published in 1970. Information about this webinar can be found at: https://www.theosophical.org/programs/webinars/3699-theosophical-teachings-of-sri-madhava-ashish. It is being facilitated by Sy Ginsburg, Michael Hurd, and Elena Dovalsantos. Sy Ginsburg is a longtime student of the late Sri Madhava Ashish.

This will be a good opportunity to study the anthropogenesis stanzas from the Book of Dzyan in depth. These stanzas contain many strange and unusual teachings, such as that of the modes of birth for humans in the remote past. In a series of posts here on the “Modes of Birth” (starting on Feb. 13, 2012), parallel material from Indian sources was brought in, and I hope that more material relevant to these stanzas will be brought in from Indian sources and posted here as this webinar proceeds.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Related Events | No comments yet


Minayeff and the Bodhicaryāvatāra Sanskrit Text first publication in the Western World

By Jacques Mahnich on December 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Le Sanscrit text of the Bodhicaryâvatâra was published by Ivan Pavlovitch Minayeff in the review Zapiski, IV, 1889 under the title «  La doctrine du salut dans le Bouddhisme postérieur. » (The Doctrine of Salvation in later Buddhism). It was his last publication.

I.P. Minayeff (1840-1890) was very productive during his life, and he published many texts on Indian Traditions, including Buddhism, starting in 1862. Most were in french, and published by the Saint-Petersbourg Academy. Here is the Minaev Ivan Pavlovich list of books and essays. On Indian Traditions, here are some of the main titles which may have been spotted by Mme Blavatsky :

1869. Pratimoksha sutra, text and translation

1872. Some words on the Buddhist Jatakas

1874. Indian Stories

1877. Indian Legends and Stories

1883. New interpretation of buddhist legends

1885. The Chakesa-dhatu-camsa, The Sandesa-kathâ

1886. Anâgata-vamsa, Gandhavamsa

1887. Bouddhism : Research and materials

1887. Simâ-vivâda-vinicchaya-kathâ

1888. Lamaïsm (review of M. Pozdniéef book on buddhist monasteries in Mongolia)

1888. Candragomin

1888. Review of Legge (J.A.) – Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms

1889. Kathâvatthu-pakarana-atthakathâ

1889. Petavatthu

1890. Bodhicaryavatara sanskrit text with introduction

not published : Cânakyasârasamgraha

post-mortem (published in Zapiski) :  Notes and materials regarding buddhism (translation of the Petavatthu) ; Analysis of some pali jâtakas not yet published; Mahâvyutpatti Index; Some tales from the Buddha renaissances; Researches on Buddhism; Researches on Buddhists and Jains.


Category: Uncategorized | No comments yet


Boris de Zirkoff’s edition of The Voice of the Silence

By David Reigle on at 3:50 am

The Voice of the Silence is said by H. P. Blavatsky to be chosen fragments translated by her from the “Book of the Golden Precepts.” The Book of the Golden Precepts, she tells us in her Preface, “forms part of the same series as that from which the ‘Stanzas’ of the Book of Dzyan were taken, on which The Secret Doctrine is based.” The Voice of the Silence clearly portrays the bodhisattva ideal of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and in fact was the first book to bring this teaching to the West (see: “The Voice of the Silence: Bringing the Heart Doctrine to the West,” by Nancy Reigle). It was published in 1889, while the Sanskrit text of the Bodhicaryāvatāra was first published in 1890 in a Russian oriental journal, and the first translation of the Bodhicaryāvatāra into a Western language, a French translation by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, was published in 1907. The Voice of the Silence was well received when it came out, and it has remained a classic of the path ever since, both inside and outside of Theosophical circles.

The late Boris de Zirkoff spent much of his life collecting and editing the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky. Her many articles have been published in 14 numbered volumes, with a cumulative index as a 15th volume. Blavatsky’s books, The Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, and From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, have been published in this series as unnumbered volumes. Boris had hoped to include The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence as an unnumbered volume in this series. He prepared an edition of The Voice of the Silence in his usual careful manner, laboriously verifying references and quotations, correcting the spelling of foreign terms (including diacritics on Sanskrit words), adding some explanatory notes, adding a historical introduction, and adding a comprehensive index.

This edition of The Voice of the Silence prepared by Boris de Zirkoff was typeset for publication by the Theosophical Publishing House, London, in 1973. Despite taking it to the proof stage, they did not publish it, but instead stayed with the older version. The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, published their second Quest edition in 1992, intended as a 1991 centenary edition to remember the one-hundredth anniversary of Blavatsky’s death in 1891. This included the new introduction written by Boris, slightly edited, and an adaptation of the index prepared by him, but gave the uncorrected original version of the main text rather than his corrected edition. Although intended to also remember the tenth anniversary of Boris de Zirkoff’s death in 1981, the resulting mismatch did him little honor (see my review published in The Eclectic Theosophist, n.s. vol. 21, no. 3, Fall 1992, pp. 21-22).

Here is one example. In The Voice of the Silence on p. 21, original 1889 pagination, four truths are given. For two of these a foreign term is given: Tsi for the second, and Tau for the fourth. In note 43 on p. 80, the four are given as: Ku, Tu, Mu, Tau. We already see that for the second one, Tsi or Tu, there is a discrepancy, obviously due to the typesetter reading the similar cursive handwriting differently. These words must refer to the four noble truths of Buddhism, and since they are not Sanskrit or Pali or Tibetan, they must be Chinese. So in 2007 I wrote to an expert in Buddhist Chinese about these terms, sending him only the terms without saying where they came from. He replied: “Who gave you the Chinese? A cook in a Chinese restaurant?” He then gave me their correct form according to the currently used pinyin system of transliteration: ku, ji, mie, dao. Boris in his unpublished edition had corrected these according to the then used Wade-Giles system of transliteration: K’u, Chi, Mieh, Tao. As a comparison with the wording of her note 43 on p. 80 will show, Blavatsky had copied these from Rev. Joseph Edkins’ 1880 book, Chinese Buddhism, p. 23, fn., where they are given as: Ku, Tsi, Mie, Tau. Back then there was no standard transliteration system for Chinese in use, and she had little choice but to use what was available. We thus see that in her note, both Tsi and Mie were erroneously typeset from her cursive handwriting as Tu and Mu. This is to say nothing of the long obsolete transliteration then used. These errors, perpetuated from 1889 to the present, honor neither Boris, nor Blavatsky, nor the secret teachings that she brought out under the name Theosophy. They bring her revered teachers, supposedly highly learned adepts in and custodians of a hidden Wisdom Tradition, down to the mundane level of a cook in a Chinese restaurant.

To this day, the edition of The Voice of the Silence carefully prepared by Boris de Zirkoff remains unpublished. This is a very unfortunate loss. I have therefore scanned the corrected proofs of his edition that was going to be published by Theosophical Publishing House, London, in 1974, kindly provided to me by Dara Eklund, who worked closely with Boris for many years. I now post them here. Also included is his typescript index. Its page numbers are to the original 1889 edition, which pagination he intended to keep, not to the pagination of the 1973 typeset proofs. As may be seen, an editor for the Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, began inserting the uncorrected spelling of Sanskrit terms as found in the 1889 edition in front of the corrected spelling used by Boris, to make his index match the uncorrected version of the text. Thus, for example, the uncorrected agnyana was added before the corrected ajñāna used by Boris. In 1889 there was no standard transliteration system in use for Sanskrit; in 1991 there was, and had been for a long time. The rest of the added words were not written on these typescript index sheets, such as the uncorrected Tibetan word Narjol added before the corrected Naljor used by Boris (like the obvious error “revelant” for “relevant”). The book titled Jñāneśvarī must here be looked up in the index under “d” not “j”: Dhyaneśwari, Dnyaneshwari. The incomprehensible Dhâsena (p. 80, n. 41), clearly a typographical error for Dhāraṇā, continues to be printed uncorrected in edition after edition. Today, educated readers are not edified by reading agnyana for ajñāna, Narjol for Naljor, etc., etc., even if these are found in an inspiring work that uses poetical language. It is unfortunate that all editions of The Voice of the Silence now in print are of the uncorrected original version, especially when the carefully corrected edition by Boris de Zirkoff has been completed and ready for publication since 1973.

Category: Book of the Golden Precepts | No comments yet


The Ālaya-vijñāna Verse from the Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra

By David Reigle on November 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra is regarded as the primary source of the Yogācāra teachings given in the words of the Buddha. The ālaya-vijñāna (“foundational consciousness,” or “storehouse consciousness”) is described in its chapter 5 (Tibetan translation) or chapter 3 (Chinese translation). This prose chapter concludes with a verse spoken by the Buddha to highlight some important aspects of the ālaya-vijñāna. In this verse, the ālaya-vijñāna is referred to as the ādāna-vijñāna, the “appropriating consciousness.” This refers to its role of “appropriating” or “taking” a body at the time of birth.

The Saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra remains lost in the original Sanskrit, and is now available only in its Chinese and Tibetan translations. Its verse on the ālaya-vijñāna or ādāna-vijñāna has been quoted in a number of Yogācāra texts, also now mostly available only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations. The original Sanskrit of this verse was first recovered as quoted in Sthiramati’s commentary on Vasubandhu’s Vijñapti-mātratā-siddhi Triṃśikā, verse 15, by way of Sylvain Lévi’s pioneering 1925 Sanskrit edition of the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi. Only long afterwards would we learn that Lévi had silently “corrected” the readings found in the Sanskrit manuscript he used. The manuscript readings turned out to be correct except for one, bālā. Lévi’s “corrections” only added new errors. Lévi gave this verse as follows (p. 34, here transliterated from his devanāgarī script):

ādānavijñānagabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālā eṣāmapi na prakāśite mohaiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

Not long after this was published Louis de la Vallée Poussin, recognizing the problems with the portion “bālā eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva,” emended it on the basis of its Tibetan translation (and a Sanskrit parallel in the Mahāvastu for mā haiva). Poussin gave his emended version in his 1928 French translation, Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-tsang, as follows (vol. 1, p. 173):

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo

ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi(to)

mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

In this emended form (accepting prakāśi) it was given by Étienne Lamotte in his 1935 French translation of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra (p. 58), in his 1936 French translation of the Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa (p. 247), and in his 1938 French translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (p. 14).

In 1989 reproductions of the original Sanskrit manuscript as well as the transcript of it used by Sylvain Lévi for his 1925 edition became available inThree Works of Vasubandhu in Sanskrit Manuscript., edited by Katsumi Mimaki, Musachi Tachikawa and Akira Yuyama. These showed that bālā is indeed in the manuscript and its transcript, but that Lévi had “corrected” their “eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva” to “eṣām api na prakāśite mohaiva.” These confirmed Poussin’s emendations, except for bālāna.

Hartmut Buescher in his 2007 critical edition of Sthiramati’s Triṃśikāvijñaptibhāṣya (p. 104) gave the correct readings from the manuscript, and accepted Poussin’s emendation bālāna, as well as prakāśi rather than the manuscript’s prakāśito. He explained in footnotes that for metrical and grammatical reasons he adopted bālāna, a genitive plural form in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (see Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 8.117 ff.), rather than the manuscript’s bālā (regarding his comment that bālā looks more like bānā in the manuscript, to me it looks like bālā). He also explained that he adopted the aorist verb prakāśi (Edgerton’s Grammar, para. 32.47 ff.), since the manuscript’s prakāśito gives one too many syllables for the verse. He gives this verse as follows, essentially the same as Poussin’s emended version:

ādānavijñāna gabhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśi mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyur [||] iti |

A second source for the original Sanskrit of this verse became available in 2013. It is quoted in Sthiramati’s Pañcaskandhakavibhāṣā, edited by Jowita Kramer, 2 volumes, and published in the important new series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In volume 2, the diplomatic edition, essentially a transcript of the manuscript, this verse appears as follows (p. 85):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā varttati sarvabījo |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

As we see, Poussin’s emendation of bālā to bālāna is confirmed. The proposed emendation prakāśi is not supported by this manuscript. Like the manuscript of Sthiramati’s other text, this manuscript reads prakāśito, despite being one syllable more than the meter should have. In volume 1, the critical edition, this verse appears as follows (p. 94):

ādānavijñāna gambhīrasūkṣmo ogho yathā vartati sarvabījaḥ |

bālāna eṣo mayi na prakāśito mā haiva ātmā parikalpayeyuḥ ||

The editor had little choice but to retain prakāśito. This verse may be translated as follows:

“The appropriating consciousness, deep and subtle, flows with all its seeds like a current. This was not taught by me to the immature, so that they would not imagine it as a self.”


Category: Alaya, Samdhinirmocanasutra, Yogacara | No comments yet


The Niralambastuti or Niralambastava found in the Jnanalokalamkara-sutra

By David Reigle on October 25, 2015 at 2:59 pm

What may very appropriately be called the Nirālamba-stuti or -stava, the “Hymn of Praise to the Unsupported One,” is a group of verses ending with the refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, “salutations to you, the unsupported one!” Although some of these verses were quoted in Buddhist texts, no such title was found among the hymns of praise in the Tibetan Buddhist canon; that is, in the bstod tshogs section of the Tengyur where one might expect to find it. My friend Mats Lindberg informed me that, while going through the Sanskrit Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, he came across it within that sūtra. He then made a recording of his recitation of this hymn of praise in Sanskrit, and posted it along with a description of it at: https://vimeo.com/140854981. At the end of his description he gave a translation of its most often quoted verse, verse 12, along with the Sanskrit:

Salutations to Thee, totally devoid of all conceptual Intention! अविकल्पितसंकल्प
Salutations to Thee whose mind is nowhere established! अप्रतिष्ठितमानस ।
Salutations to Thee who is devoid of all recollection! अस्मृत्यमनसीकार
Salutations to Thee the Unsupported, devoid of all mental fixation! निरालम्ब नमोऽस्तु ते ।। १२ ।।

The Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra (more fully Sarva-buddha-viṣayāvatāra-jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra) is given in some lists as one of the ten tathāgata-garbha sūtras, the sourcebooks of the buddha-nature teaching, even though the term tathāgata-garbha does not occur in it. It is the source of the nine examples used to illustrate buddha-action in chapter 4 the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, listed in verse 4.13, and it is quoted in the commentary after verse 1.8 to explain six qualities of a buddha listed in verse 1.5. Its Sanskrit original was found in Tibet, and was published in a limited facsimile edition in 2003, in a transliterated edition along with its Tibetan and Chinese translations in 2004, and in a critical edition also in 2004 (scanned and posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts; also has been input and is available as a searchable file at the GRETIL site: http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/jnalokau.htm). In 2006 fragments of a Sanskrit manuscript of it that was discovered in 1900-1901 were published in The British Library Sanskrit Fragments, vol. 1 (http://iriab.soka.ac.jp/orc/Publications/BLSF/pdf/BLSF-I-07-KARASHIMA-WILLE.pdf). In 2015 an English translation of it by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee titled The Ornament of the Light of Awareness appeared as part of the 84000 project (http://read.84000.co/old-app/#!ReadingRoom/UT22084-047-002/0).

The Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra consists of forty verses, all ending with the refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, “salutations to you, the unsupported one!” Three such verses occurring in the Pañcakrama were noted by Christian Lindtner in his 1982 book, Nagarjuniana (p. 13, fn. 20), where he tries to determine which texts attributed to Nāgārjuna were actually written by Nāgārjuna. Lindtner there lists the *Nirālambastava (the preceding asterisk means that the title is a hypothetical restoration) as a text attributed to Nāgārjuna, on the basis of a quotation he found in the Tibetan translation of Dharmendra’s Tattvasārasaṃgraha (the Sanskrit original of this text is lost). He gives the quoted verse: bsam byed bsam gtan bsam bya dag || spangs pa bden pa mthong ba yin || ’di kun rtog pa tsam nyid du || gang gis rtogs pa de grol ’gyur ||, and the reference to the Peking edition, no. 4534, folio 102b, but nothing more. This text, the Tattva-sāra-saṃgraha, is Tohoku no. 3711. Checking this text in the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 41, p. 245, lines 11-14 (from this I have corrected the Peking edition’s “do” at the end of the third pāda to “du”), we find that it is preceded by: ’phags pa klu sgrub kyi zhal snga nas kyis | dmigs su med par bstod pa las |, and it is followed by: zhes gsungs pa dang |. This shows that the quotation consists of only one verse, that Dharmendra indeed attributes this verse to Nāgārjuna, Tibetan klu sgrub, and that he gives the title of the text it comes from in Tibetan, dmigs su med par bstod pa, which can be restored as *Nirālambastava. No doubt Lindtner’s restoration of this title was influenced by the occurrence of three verses in the Pañcakrama (which text we have in Sanskrit) ending in niralāmba namo ‘stu te, which Lindtner here notes may be from the same source.

In the same footnote, Lindtner brings in one additional quotation, in support of the attribution of such a text to Nāgārjuna. It is from Atiśa’s Bodhimārgadīpapañjikā. Again, he gives the quoted verse: kun du rtogs pas ma brtags shing || yid ni rab tu mi gnas la || dran med yid la byed pa med || dmigs med de la phyag ’tshal lo ||, and the reference to the Peking edition, no. 5344, folio 329b, but nothing more. This text, the Bodhi-mārga-dīpa-pañjikā, is Tohoku no. 3948. Checking this text in the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1756, lines 3-5 (in accordance with this I have changed Lindtner’s initial kun tu rtogs to kun du rtogs), we find that it is preceded by: ’phags pa klu sgrub kyi zhal nas |, and it is followed by: zhes gsungs so |. This shows that the quotation consists of only one verse, that Atiśa indeed attributes this verse to Nāgārjuna, Tibetan klu sgrub, and that he does not give the title of the text. The reason that Lindtner gives this quote here, which is left unstated by him, is that its last pāda, dmigs med de la phyag ’tshal lo, says: “salutations to that unsupported one!” This could translate niralāmba namo ‘stu te, although for the Sanskrit word “te,” meaning “to you,” it has instead the Tibetan word “de,” meaning “that,” which is uncharacteristic of the usually precise Tibetan translations. Both Dharmendra and Atiśa specifically name the author of the verse they cite as Nāgārjuna (Tibetan klu sgrub). Neither of these two verses, however, has been found in the eighteen hymns of praise attributed to Nāgārjuna in the Tibetan Tengyur.

In Karl Brunnhölzl’s translation of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stava, published in 2007 as In Praise of Dharmadhātu, he surveys the other hymns of praise attributed to Nāgārjuna. He here (p. 24) lists the *Nirālambastava, referring to it as “now lost,” and gives the same three references that were given by Lindtner (Dharmendra, Atiśa, and three verses from the Pañcakrama, a text reputedly by Nāgārjuna), obviously copying this from him. We can now see that the three verses occurring in the Pañcakrama, verses 3.4-6 (so in the 1994 Mimaki/Tomabechi edition and in the 2001 Tripathi edition, given as verses 4.4-6 in the 1896 Poussin edition, posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts), are verses 16, 5, and 34 of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. Moreover, we find that four more of its verses occur in the Pañcakrama, at 4.8-11, corresponding to verses 4, 17, 12, and 13. The refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, in these verses occurring in the Pañcakrama was translated into Tibetan as: dmigs med khyod la phyag ’tshal lo (verse 3.5 has the variant: mi dmigs khyod la phyag ’tshal lo), where niralāmba was translated as dmigs med. However, this refrain found at the end of each of the forty verses in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra was translated into Tibetan as: mi rten khyod la phyag ’tshal lo (Comparative Kangyur vol. 47, pp. 784 ff.), where niralāmba was translated as mi rten. Both translations include the Tibetan word “khyod,” meaning “you,” in this refrain. The verse quoted by Atiśa from Nāgārjuna, as noted above, does not. Nonetheless, it appears to be an alternative translation of verse 12 of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. Since this verse was incorporated into the Pañcakrama, at 4.10, Atiśa may well have quoted it from this text considered to be by Nāgārjuna, even though its ultimate source is the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. The verse quoted by Dharmendra from Nāgārjuna does not end with any such refrain. The dmigs su med par bstod pa that it comes from, restored as *Nirālambastava, is not the Nirālambastuti or Nirālambastava in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra.

Besides the references given by Christian Lindtner and repeated by Karl Brunnhölzl, Mats Lindberg also found that a verse from this hymn of praise was given by Elizabeth English in her 2002 book, Vajrayoginī: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms, p. 441 n. 284. This verse was quoted by her from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā. It is the often quoted verse 12, and references to six more quotations of it provided by Harunaga Isaacson are given by her in this note. None of these attribute it to a *Nirālambastava. The two from the Saṃvarodaya-tantra (of which I could only find the one at 8.36; the 3.9 reference must be a misprint), like the one from the Pañcakrama, have no source attribution because they are incorporated into these texts. Of the three from the collection of texts by Advaya-vajra published in Sanskrit as the Advayavajrasaṃgraha (Baroda, 1927; new critical edition, Tokyo, 1988-1991; both posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts), the source is not named for the one from the Pañca-tathāgata-mudrā-vivaraṇa (1927 ed., p. 25; 1988 ed., p. 183 or (52); anyatrāpy uktam) or the one from the Catur-mudrā-niścaya (1927 ed., p. 34, her reference to p. 38 is a misprint; 1989 ed., p. 243 or (102); pravacane ca), but the source for the one from the Amanasikārādhāra (1927 ed., p. 60, without “buddha”; 1989 ed., p. 209 or (136), with “buddha”) is named: ārya-sarva-[buddha-]viṣayāvatāra-jñānālokālaṃkāra-mahāyāna-sūtre, i.e., the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. So Advaya-vajra, also known as Maitrīpa, was fully aware of the source of this verse, and that source was not Nāgārjuna.

This verse was translated by Elizabeth English (p. 129) as:

“Homage to you whose conceptualization is without discrimination, whose mind does not rest [on emptiness as an object] (apratiṣṭhitamānasa), who are without remembrance and recollections, without support!”

Many years earlier, this verse as incorporated in the Saṃvarodaya-tantra at 8.36 (in some manuscripts) was included in the 1974 edition and translation of selected chapters of that text by Shiníchi Tsuda, who translated it as (p. 268):

“O you who have not produced imaginary ideas! Whose mind is not fixed! O you who are without remembrance and attention! Who are without support! Salutation to you!”

In the 2015 English translation of the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee titled The Ornament of the Light of Awareness, this verse was translated as:

“You do not form concepts,

And your mind has no ground to stand upon.

You have no recollection or mental placement,

And you are free of any point of reference:

I bow to you!

As may be seen, the characteristic refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, was here translated as, “And you are free of any point of reference: I bow to you!” The defining word nirālamba, translated by Mats Lindberg as “unsupported,” and by Shiníchi Tsuda and by Elizabeth English as “without support,” was here interpretively translated as “free of any point of reference.” To complicate the issue, Karl Brunnhölzl in his widely read translations uses the interpretive translation “without reference points” for the Sanskrit word niṣprapañca, Tibetan spros pa med pa, rather than for nirālamba, Tibetan mi rten or dmigs med. The word niṣprapañca is translated by others as “without proliferation, diversification, manifoldness, elaboration.” Where the word nirālamba occurs in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, 4.73, here Tibetan dmigs pa med, Karl Brunnhölzl translated it as “without support” (When the Clouds Part, p. 450), the same translation of it used by Shiníchi Tsuda and Elizabeth English, and very much like “unsupported” used by Mats Lindberg. Where the word niṣprapañca occurs in the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, verses 13 and 39, the Dharmachakra Translation Committee translated it as “free from elaboration,” one of its commonly used translations. Thus, nirālamba translated as “free of any point of reference” in the refrain of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra could easily be confused with niṣprapañca translated as “without reference points” in Karl Brunnhölzl’s widely read translations. It is for reasons like this that the translation of Buddhist technical terms from Sanskrit into Tibetan was standardized long ago.

Another quotation of a verse from the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, verse 29, is found in Nāropā’s Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. This was noted by Mattia Salvini in his Introduction to The Ornament of the Light of Awareness, and by Francesco Sferra in a footnote in his 2006 edition of the Sekoddeśaṭīkā (p. 173; this quotation is found on p. 58 in the 1941 ed., posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts). This quotation is introduced by: yathoktam āgame, “as said in an āgama.” An āgama in Buddhism refers to a sūtra or a tantra, texts that give the words of the Buddha (along with whoever he may be speaking with). This is distinguished from a śāstra, a text written by a teacher other than the Buddha, such as Nāgārjuna. Thus Nāropā too, like Advaya-vajra, knew that the verse he quoted came from a sūtra, not from Nāgārjuna. As found by Mats Lindberg, the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra is a hymn of praise to the Buddha spoken by Mañjuśrī.


Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Dolpopa’s Annotations on the Vimalaprabhā, Chapters 3-5, Now Published

By David Reigle on September 17, 2015 at 11:33 pm

One of the most famous, and at the same time most elusive, works on Kālacakra is the Tibetan annotations written by the Jonang teacher Dolpopa on the Vimalaprabhā Kālacakra commentary. Although Dolpopa’s collected writings, long thought to be lost, have become available, his annotated edition of the Vimalaprabhā was not among them. Now, three of its five chapters have been published. They are found in volumes 20 and 21 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo. This is a collection of Kālacakra works in Tibetan, projected to be a 100-volume set, arranged in chronological order. The first 20 volumes of this set, including the earliest works, were published in Lhasa with a date of 2012, although they did not become available until early 2014. At that time I was able to see a list of what texts were included, thanks to Jörg Heimbel (tibetanbookstore.org), but I was not able to obtain this set until now.

Previously, in 2007, a 7-volume collection of Kālacakra commentaries in Tibetan was published, Dus ‘khor ‘grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs. It included annotated editions of the Vimalaprabhā by Bu ston (vols. 2-3), by Phyogs las rnam rgyal (vols. 4-5), and ostensibly by Dol po pa (vols. 6-7). However, Cyrus Stearns in a Jan. 28, 2009 blog post at the Jonang Foundation website, “Dolpopa’s Elusive Kalachakra Annotations” (http://www.jonangfoundation.org/blog/dolpopas-elusive-kalachakra-annotations), wrote that the volumes attributed to Dolpopa are actually a version of Chogle Namgyal’s (Phyogs las rnam rgyal) annotations. He began this post: “Dolpopa’s fabled annotations to the Stainless Light commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra remain elusive.” He concluded it: “The puzzle of whether Dolpopa’s annotations have actually survived will perhaps only be solved when an annotated manuscript of the Stainless Light is located that concludes with Dolpopa’s verses, but does not also contain Choglé Namgyal’s annotations.”

Three-fifths of such a manuscript has now become available. Volume 20 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo contains chapters 3 and 4 of this manuscript, while volume 19 contains chapters 1 and 2 of the manuscript wrongly attributed to Dolpopa, reproduced from volume 6 of the 7-volume set published in 2007. When volumes 21-40 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo set were published dated 2014, it could be confirmed that we do indeed have Dolpopa’s annotations on the Vimalaprabhā for these chapters, and not the annotations of his disciple Chogle Namgyal. Volume 21 includes chapter 5 of Dolpopa’s annotated edition of the Vimalaprabhā. We could now see that this chapter and chapters 3 and 4 in volume 20 all came from the same manuscript. This chapter 5 concludes with the verses that Cyrus Stearns had shown were written by Dolpopa, both because of their content and because of being quoted as such by others (see: The Buddha from Dolpo, 1999 ed. p. 22; 2010 ed. pp. 21-22 and notes 75 and 91), but does not contain the concluding annotation that gives a clear first-person statement of Chogle Namgyal’s authorship. Of course, because Chogle Namgyal was Dolpopa’s disciple, many of the annotations will be the same, or nearly the same.

It was the research of Cyrus Stearns, with the crucial help of Dolpopa’s concluding verses that were added to the printed edition of Chogle Namgyal’s annotations, that allowed us to be sure that we actually have the annotations by Dolpopa on three chapters, and I thank him for confirming this in an email reply to me. As for availability of these texts, after receiving the set of volumes 1-20, I thought I would check the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s website (tbrc.org) to see if they yet had a list of the contents of volumes 21-40. To my great surprise, they not only had a list of the contents, they had scans of these volumes available, and also scans of volumes 1-20. It may be noted that the scans of volumes 1-20 were made at a lower resolution than the scans of volumes 21-40, so the small print of the annotations will be hard to read in these volumes. All the texts in the Dolpopa and Chogle Namgyal volumes are written in dbu med or cursive script. For Chogle Namgyal’s annotations, we have a nicely printed modern typeset edition in dbu can script in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 17-20. We may hope that such an edition of Dolpopa’s annotations will soon be published in the Jonang Publication Series.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Dharmadhātu-stava Recited in Sanskrit

By David Reigle on September 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Mats Lindberg, who lived in India for a number of years, has recorded himself reciting the newly published Dharmadhātustava in the original Sanskrit:


He has also recorded himself reciting the Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṃgīti, a text of basic importance in Kālacakra and other Buddhist tantric systems:


Another Sanskrit song recited by him, The Twenty-one Praises of Ārya Tārā, has also been posted at the same site.

Very few recordings of recitations of Sanskrit Buddhist texts have yet become available on the web. The recitation by Mats of these Sanskrit texts follows traditional Indian styles, and his pronunciation is virtually indistinguishable from that of native Indian Sanskrit speakers. Many thanks to Mats for making these recordings and posting them. 

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Dharmadhātu-stava Original Sanskrit Published

By David Reigle on September 13, 2015 at 3:09 am

The Dharmadhātustava by Nāgārjuna has now been published in the original Sanskrit. As noted in the April 6, 2012 blog post here, “The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna,” a Sanskrit manuscript of it had been found in Tibet. This has now been edited and published in the series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region:


Category: Noteworthy Books | 2 comments


Regarding David Reigle’s “New Introduction.”

By Robert Hütwohl on August 30, 2015 at 11:07 am

The very well-researched “New Introduction” to the English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s book: The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, is a valuable and much needed adjunct to the entire Bhattacharya-study. The serious student will want to study the entire book.

For the student who wants to get their feet wet regarding the subject of understanding Gautama Buddha’s view regarding whether he taught an ātman or Eternal Impersonal Self doctrine by denying an anātman or no-self (personal self), David’s fairly succinct study, within ten pages, is a most worthwhile addition to the book, adding an historical and doctrinal survey of post-Buddha views from the main great Buddhist commentators as to their refutation of a permanent personal self. This is all most important because the idea of the prevailing Emptiness idea in Mahāyāna Buddhism as originally taught by the great Nāgārjuna, in the minds of many students of Buddhism, is that Emptiness = voidnesss, nothingness, as opposed to the Eternal Womb. 

My survey is there are very few students who equate Emptiness or Śūnyatā with the eternal, impersonal ātman. This New Introduction and book can only contribute towards a better contextual perspective for many of the terms found in the Maitreya Ratnagotravibhāga (which begins with an homage to Vajrasattva) and other texts: dhātu,* tathāgata-garbha, ratna (Tib., dkon mchog), puruṣa, tathatā, gotra, vajradhāra, vajrasattva, tathāgata-dhātu, etc., etc. I am not saying all of these terms are equivalent.

*This is, unquestionably, the most common term in the Ratnagotravibhāga. (See: http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/dhatu-atman/), with Jñāna and sattva being the second-most common terms.

Although today’s version of the Hindu upaniṣads are the laghu (abridged) or edited versions from the original ancient, larger upaniṣads, Bhattacharya’s book may help one to further appreciate the Hindu Upaniṣad-tradition. As pointed out by Pratap Chandra, in “Was Early Buddhism Influenced by the Upanisads?,” particularly three upaniṣads were pre-buddhistic, though not in the abridged form we have today.

No doubt, Bhattacharya’s book is unavoidably academic as to its approach to the central issue, but this New Introduction is complete in itself for both a beginning or advanced student of Buddhism. However, I do hope students, scholars and academics from around the world will read the entire book including this New Introduction, and Nancy Reigle’s informative “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition.” 

As a whole, the entire book will be a perpetual resource for coming ages. It should serve to alter current Buddhist scholarship in many new directions from its currently overly intellectualized confusion of investigations which have been a total waste of time, all due to an original misinterpretation of what the Buddha taught.

Category: Noteworthy Books, Uncategorized | No comments yet


On Translation of Scriptures

By Sati Shankar on at 11:07 am

Recently at the 16th World Sanskrit Conference, 28th June -2nd July 2015,Bangkok I gained some exposure to current practices in translation of Scriptures, and I feel that the words, from Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, compiled below, on the translations of Indian Scriptures, written more than six decades ago still stand correct. This compilation is aimed to be a reminder.

Existing translations of Vedic texts, however etymologically “accurate” are too often unintelligible or unconvincing, sometimes admittedly unintelligible to the translator himself. Neither the Sacred Books of the East nor for example such translations of the Upanishads as those by R.E.Hume or those of Mitra, Roer, and Cowell, recently reprinted, even approach the standards set by such works as Thomas Taylor’s version of the Enneads of Plotinus, or Friedlander’s of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.”

“Translators of the Vedas do not seem to have possessed any previous knowledge of metaphysics, but rather to have gained their first and only notion of ontology from Sanskrit sources.”

“As remarked by Jung,(Psychological Types, p.263,) with reference to the study of Upanis.ads under existing conditions, “ any true perception of the quite extraordinary depth of those ideas and their amazing psychological accuracy is still but remote possibility.”

It is very evident that for an understanding of the Veda, a knowledge of Sanskrit, however profound, is insufficient. Indians themselves do not rely upon their knowledge of Sanskrit here, but insist upon the absolute necessity of study at the feet of a guru.

“That is not possible in the same sense to students in the West. Yet they also possess a tradition founded in the first principles.

What right have Sanskritists to confine their labors to the solution of linguistic problems; is it fear that precludes their wrestling with the ideology of the texts they undertake? Our scholarship is too little humane…”(over to foot note 3, p 77)

“On the one hand, the professional scholar, who has direct access to the sources, function in isolation; on the other, the amateur propagandist of Indian thought disseminates mistaken notions. Between the two, no provision is made for the educated man of good will.”

In any case, no great extension of our present measure of understanding can be expected from philological research alone, however valuable such methods of research may have been in the past, and what is true for Sumero-Babylonian religion is no less true for the Vedas, viz., that “further progress in the interpretation of the difficult cycle of… liturgies cannot be made until the cult is more profoundly interpreted from the point of view of the history of religion.” [(4) Langdom, S. Tammuz and Ishtar, Oxford, 1914, p.v]

Coomaraswamy Ananda K. A New Approach to the Vedas: An Essay in Translation and Exegesis. ISBN 81-215-0630-1 (1994) originally published by Luzac Co. London. [Introduction, p. vii]



Category: Book of Dzyan | Tags: , , , , | No comments yet


New Introduction to The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism

By David Reigle on August 17, 2015 at 10:55 pm

A corrected reprint of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s book, The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, has now been issued with a new introduction. The new introduction, written by myself, has been posted separately at Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/14990642/New_Introduction_to_Atman-Brahman_in_Ancient_Buddhism. It begins:

The most serious objection to Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s thesis that the Buddha did not deny the universal ātman may be put in the form of this question: Why, then, did Buddhists down through the ages think he did? Reply: Actually, they did not think this, as far as we can tell from their writings that refute the ātman and teach the anātman or no-self doctrine. The idea of the ātman as the impersonal universal ātman did not become dominant in India until some time after the eighth century C.E. Before then, throughout the Buddhist period, the dominant idea of the ātman in India was that of a permanent personal ātman. Judging from their writings, the Indian Buddhist teachers from Nāgārjuna to Āryadeva to Asaṅga to Vasubandhu to Bhavya to Candrakīrti to Dharmakīrti to Śāntarakṣita thought that the Buddha’s anātman teaching was directed against a permanent personal ātman.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


dhātu = ātman

By David Reigle on July 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Not long after the Sanskrit text of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was first published (1950), V. V. Gokhale published a note (ratnagotravibhaga_1.52_=_bhagavadgita_13.32_gokhale_1955) calling attention to the parallel between its verse 1.52 and Bhagavad-gītā verse 13.32. Both verses give a comparison with space (ākāśa) in the same words. The Bhagavad-gītā verse speaks of the ātman, the “self,” while the parallel Ratna-gotra-vibhāga verse speaks of the dhātu, the “element.”

Bhagavad-gītā 13.32:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthito dehe tathâtmā nôpalipyate || 13.32 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so the ātman, everywhere established in the body, is not tainted.

Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.52:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthitaḥ sattve tathâyaṃ nôpalipyate || 1.52 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so this [the dhātu], everywhere established in the living being, is not tainted.

The pronoun “this” (ayam) refers back to the dhātu in the preceding verse 1.49:

sarvatrânugataṃ yadvan nirvikalpâtmakaṃ nabhaḥ |
citta-prakṛti-vaimalya-dhātuḥ sarvatra-gas tathā || 1.49 ||

Just as space, whose nature is non-conceptual, is everywhere-pervading, so the dhātu, which is the purity of the nature of mind, is everywhere-pervading.

If these two parallel verses are representative, the dhātu in the teachings of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga holds the same place as the ātman holds in the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.

Category: Dhatu, Ratnagotravibhaga | 2 comments


More on Ātman-Brahman by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya

By David Reigle on May 3, 2015 at 7:53 pm

Updated July 7, 2015, with two additions.

The late Kamaleswar Bhattacharya (died 2014) continued to write on the theme of Ātman-Brahman in ancient Buddhism throughout his life, in various articles. These articles were published in sources that are not easily accessible, being found only in the largest academic libraries. Having visited some of these libraries and made photocopies of these articles, scans of them are now posted here.

A brief biography of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya was included in the Introduction by Phyllis Granoff to a special issue of Journal of Indian Philosophy (vol. 27, nos. 1/2, Feb./Apr. 1999), “Guruvandana: Essays in Indology in Honour of K. Bhattacharya.” It was followed by a Bibliography of his writings. These are posted here as: bhattacharya_kamaleswar_biography_and_bibliography_1999

“On the Brahman in Buddhist Literature.” Sri Venkateswara University Oriental Journal, vol. 18, pts. 1 and 2, Jan.-Dec. 1975, pp. 1-8: brahman_in_buddhist_literature_k_bhattacharya_1975

“The Ātman in Two Prajñāpāramitā-Sūtra-s.” Our Heritage, Special Number: 150th Anniversary Volume, 1824-1974. Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1979, pp. 39-45: atman_in_two_prajnaparamita-sutras_k_bhattacharya_1979

“Diṭṭhaṃ, Sutaṃ, Mutaṃ, Vinnātaṃ” [sic for Viññātaṃ]. In Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula, ed. Somaratna Balasooriya, et al. London: Gordon Fraser, 1980, pp. 10-15 [On a passage from the Alagaddūpamasutta.]: dittham_sutam_mutam_vinnatam_k_bhattacharya_1980

“The Anātman Concept in Buddhism.” Navonmeṣa: Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj Commemoration Volume, vol. 4: English. Varanasi: M. M. Gopinath Kaviraj Centenary Celebration Committee, 1987, pp. 213-224: anatman_concept_in_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1987

“Brahman in the Pali Canon and in the Pali Commentaries.” Amalā Prajñā: Aspects of Buddhist Studies, Professor P. V. Bapat Felicitation Volume, ed. N. H. Samtani. Bibliotheca Indo-Buddhica, no. 63. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1989, pp. 15-31: brahman_in_the_pali_canon_k_bhattacharya_1989

“Some Thoughts on Ātman-Brahman in Early Buddhism.” Dr. B. M. Barua Birth Centenary Commemoration Volume, 1989. Calcutta: Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha, 1989, pp. 63-83: atman-brahman_in_early_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1989

“A Note on Anātman in the Work of E. Lamotte.” Premier Colloque Etienne Lamotte (Bruxelles et Liege 24-27 septembre 1989). Publications de L’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 42. Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1993, pp. 25-26: anatman_in_the_work_of_e_lamotte_k_bhattacharya_1993

“A Note on the Anatta Passage of the Mahānidāna-sutta.” Recent Researches in Buddhist Studies: Essays in Honour of Professor Y. Karunadasa, ed. Kuala Lumpur Dhammajoti, et al. Colombo: Y. Karunadasa Felicitation Committee, 1997, pp. 47-50: anatta_passage_of_the_mahanidana-sutta_k_bhattacharya_1997

“Once More on a Passage of the Alagaddūpama-sutta.” In Bauddhavidyāsudhākaraḥ: Studies in Honour of Heinz Bechert on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. Petra Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann. Indica et Tibetica, vol. 30. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1997, pp. 25-28: alagaddupama-sutta_once_more_on_a_passage_k_bhattacharya_1997

Some Thoughts on Early Buddhism, with Special Reference to Its Relation to the Upaniṣads. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1998. Acharya Dharmananda Kosambi Memorial Lectures (third series). [A 31-page booklet.]: some_thoughts_on_early_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1998

“Once More on Two Passages of the Pāli Canon.” Indologica Taurinensia, vol. 17-18, 1991-1992 (published 2000), pp. 63-67: pali_canon_once_more_on_two_passages_k_bhattacharya_2000

“Unity in Diversity: Anattā Revisited.” Sanskrit Studies Centre Journal (Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Thailand), vol. 2, 2006, pp. 1-7: anatta_revisited_unity_in_diversity_k_bhattacharya_2006

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition

By David Reigle on April 29, 2015 at 3:01 am

As for the relevance of The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism to the “Book of Dzyan,” the Upaniṣadic ātman or brahman has been equated by Blavatsky and the Theosophical Mahatma teachers to the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine: an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle. They give this as being what the Buddha originally taught, in accordance with what is taught in the ancient Wisdom Tradition that they represent. Since the Buddha denied the ātman, long taken by the Buddhist religion to be the ātman taught in the Hindu Upaniṣads, the Theosophical Mahatma teachers appear to be woefully uninformed, if not altogether imaginary. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s research found in this book is therefore of much importance to students of Theosophy. The main points of his research have been excerpted and placed within this context in the article by Nancy Reigle, “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition,” available here as: Atman_Anatman in Buddhism

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien

By David Reigle on at 2:39 am

The original French book of this title is out of print and not easily available. So we have scanned it and now post it here as: atman-brahman_dans_le_bouddhisme_ancien. This is necessary for our French readers, it is necessary for reference purposes, and for comparison with the just published English translation.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism

By David Reigle on at 1:08 am

The long-awaited English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s 1973 French book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien, has just been published, and is now available at Amazon.com. As stated in the book’s description:

“The thesis of this book is nothing less than epoch-making. While no one doubts that the Buddha denied the ātman, the self, the question is: Which ātman? Buddhism, as a religion, has long taken this to be the universal ātman taught in the Hindu Upaniṣads, equivalent to brahman. What we find in the Buddha’s words as recorded in the Buddhist scriptures, however, is only a denial of any permanent self in the ever-changing aggregates that form a person. In decades of teaching, the Buddha had many opportunities to clearly deny the universal ātman if that was his intention. He did not do so. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s research is the most important study of this fundamentally important question to have appeared. Other studies of this question exist, coming to the same conclusion, but in general they have not been taken seriously. Bhattacharya’s research, because of the high level of his scholarship, has to be taken seriously. One may disagree with it, but it cannot be dismissed or ignored.”

Professor Bhattacharya’s thesis, as stated in his Preface, is: “the Buddha does not deny the Upaniṣadic ātman; on the contrary, he indirectly affirms it, in denying that which is falsely believed to be the ātman.”

How, one may wonder, could such a fundamental teaching be misunderstood for so long? He writes in his Preface:

“The one request I would make of such eminent scholars as have devoted their lives to the study of Buddhism is that they adopt a genuinely Buddhist attitude and read this book before saying, ‘That is impossible.’”

Category: Noteworthy Books | 4 comments


Ratna-gotra-vibhāga: A Review

By David Reigle on February 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Ratnagotravibhāga, Ratnagotravibhaga)

A new English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga has now appeared in When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Snow Lion, 2014, released by the publisher in Jan. 2015 and at Amazon in Feb. 2015). This volume includes a translation of the accompanying Indian commentary, essential for correctly understanding the verses that comprise the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga or Uttara-tantra. It is the third English translation that includes this commentary, each of which was a major step forward. The first translation, by E. Obermiller published in 1931 (posted on this website under “References”), was competently made from the Tibetan translation before the Sanskrit original was discovered. This pioneering translation was a remarkable achievement, making this text available to the outside world for the first time, and doing so in a generally accurate manner. The second translation, by Jikido Takasaki published in 1966 (posted here under “References”), was the first to be made from the Sanskrit original. It, too, was a remarkable achievement, and well illustrates the improvements in understanding that the Sanskrit original makes possible. The third translation, just published, makes another major step forward. Despite being about transcendental subjects, the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is an analytical treatise using many technical terms in a precise manner. Translation terminology has advanced considerably in the last few decades, with the publication of so many Buddhist texts. Taking nothing away from the previous two translations, the use of more accurate and precise translation terminology in the third translation makes possible a much clearer understanding of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga.

The translation of the term dhātu, the most central term of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, is a prime example. Obermiller translated its Tibetan translation (khams) in verse 1.1 as the “Germ (of Buddhahood).” “Germ [of the Buddha]” was used by Takasaki for the term gotra (e.g., p. 288). Takasaki translated dhātu in verse 1.1 as the “Essence [of the Buddha].” “Essence of the Buddha” was used by Obermiller for the term tathāgata-garbha (e.g., p. 89). Brunnhölzl translates dhātu as “basic element,” similar to another translation of it used by Obermiller, “fundamental element.” The central meaning of dhātu is “element.” To distinguish it from its common usage as applied to other elements, the word “basic” was added for its use as a technical term applying to the one element. Translation terminology typically starts with what we may call “ball park” translations, translations that are somewhere within the range of meanings of a particular term. They are thus “in the ball park,” a large playing field. As more and more texts become available, and the particular term can be seen in more and more different settings, it becomes possible to get closer and closer to the central meaning of the term. Brunnhölzl very often uses translations that reflect the central meaning of a term rather than a peripheral meaning, as seen in his choice of “basic element” for the term dhātu.

As a sample, we may look at a passage on the one basic element (eka-dhātu) found in the accompanying Indian commentary on Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.12 in the three translations, preceded by the Sanskrit and Tibetan:

evam eṣāṃ bālānām anuśayavatāṃ nimitta-grāhiṇām ārambaṇa-caritānām ayoniśo-manasikāra-samudācārāt kleśa-samudayaḥ | kleśa-samudayāt karma-samudayaḥ | karma-samudayāj janma-samudayo bhavati | sa punar eṣa sarvâkāra-kleśa-karma-janma-saṃkleśo bālānām ekasya dhātor yathā-bhūtam ajñānād adarśanāc ca  pravartate |

de ltar na byis pa bag la nyal dang ldan pa mtshan mar ’dzin pa can | dmigs pa la spyod pa de dag la tshul bzhin ma yin pa yid la byed pa kun ’byung ba las nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ngo || nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ba las ni las kun ’byung ngo || las kun ’byung ba las ni skye ba kun ’byung bar ’gyur ro || byis pa rnams kyi* nyon mongs pa dang las dang skye ba’i kun nas nyon mongs pa’i rnam pa ’di thams cad kyang khams gcig yang dag pa ji lta ba bzhin ma shes pas rab tu ’jug go || 

*kyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions; Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1003.

“Thus the ordinary worldly beings, possessed of the residues and seeds of the defiling forces and clinging to the reality of separate entities, are directed toward the (illusionary worldly) objects. Accordingly this gives rise to the wrong appreciation which is the origin of the passions. The latter in their turn call forth the deeds and these are the cause of (repeated) births. All these different forms of defilement peculiar to the worldlings, those of passions, deeds and repeated birth, manifest themselves in this world owing to the ignorance of the unique Germ (of Buddhahood) in its true character.” (Obermiller, p. 136)

“Thus these people, having tendencies [of Desire, Hatred and Ignorance], regarding the [unreal] characteristic [as real], and making it the basis of cognition, [affectionally] hanging on it, produce the Irrational Thought, from which consequently arises Defilement. Because of origination of Defilement, there arises Action; from the origination of Action, there arises Rebirth. And all kinds of impurity (saṃkleśa) of these Defilements, Action, Rebirth, etc. come forth because people do not know, nor perceive the one [real] essence as it is.” (Takasaki, p. 170)

“In this way, improper mental engagement manifests in naive beings who possess those latencies, grasp at [certain] characteristics, and engage in them as their focal objects. From that, the afflictions arise. From the arising of the afflictions, actions arise. From the arising of actions, there is the arising of birth. So all aspects of the afflictiveness of afflictions, karma, and birth of naive beings operate by virtue of not realizing and not seeing the single basic element in just the way it is in true reality.” (Brunnhölzl, p. 344)

As may be seen, the term dhātu, Tibetan khams, appears in Obermiller’s translation as the “Germ (of Buddhahood),” in Takasaki’s translation as the “[real] essence,” and in Brunnhölzl’s translation as the “basic element.” For the technical term kleśa, Tibetan nyon mongs pa, Obermiller uses “passions,” Takasaki uses “Defilement,” and Brunnhölzl uses “afflictions.” The latter, “affliction,” has now become widely used by translators of Buddhist texts, because it accords with the etymological meaning of kleśa. Of course, translators choose what seems best to them, and Brunnhölzl’s choices of translation terms do not always coincide with what is widely used. The key term in this literature, tathāgata-garbha, for which Obermiller had used both “Essence of Buddhahood/the Buddha” and “Germ of the Buddha,” and for which Takasaki used “Matrix of the Tathāgata,” is translated by Brunnhölzl as “tathāgata heart.” Most translators use words such as “matrix” or “embryo” for garbha in this compound. Elsewhere the word garbha commonly means “womb.” The meaning “heart” comes from snying po, the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit garbha here in this compound. The Tibetan word snying po also frequently translates the Sanskrit word sāra, meaning “essence.” It is apparently in the sense of “essence” that snying po was chosen for garbha in this compound by the early Tibetan translators, and it is apparently in the sense of “essence” that “heart” was chosen by Brunnhölzl (see p. 53).

Brunnhölzl tells us in his Preface that he has translated this text “from the Sanskrit and Tibetan” (p. xi). He had there noted that Obermiller’s translation was made “from the Tibetan,” and Takasaki’s translation was made “from the Sanskrit and Chinese.” Actually, Takasaki’s translation was made from the Sanskrit, under the guidance of V. V. Gokhale during Takasaki’s stay in India from August 1954 to January 1957, as Takasaki tells us in his Preface (p. xi). He certainly used the Chinese translation thoroughly, as may be seen in his many footnotes, and he also used the Tibetan translation thoroughly, as may also be seen in his many footnotes. Takasaki’s translation, however, was made from the Sanskrit. Brunnhölzl’s translation, as he tells us, was made from the Sanskrit and Tibetan. In many places his translation is clearly based on the Tibetan translation rather than on the Sanskrit original. Of course, he made full use of the Sanskrit original in conjunction with the Tibetan translation.

Brunnhölzl’s translation has also made full use of all the advancements in our understanding of this unique text since the publication of the Sanskrit original in 1950, edited by E. H. Johnston (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” along with Nakamura’s 1961 Sanskrit edition with the Chinese translation, his corresponding edition of the Tibetan translation, and his two multi-lingual indexes). This includes all the corrections and proposed emendations to the published Sanskrit text. Johnston used for his edition photographs of two old Sanskrit manuscripts discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana, one of which was missing more than half of its leaves, and the other “does not reach the standard of accuracy of most Nepali MSS. of its period,” in Johnston’s words (p. vii). Johnston used both the Tibetan and Chinese translations in helping to establish the Sanskrit text. Johnston’s edition was seen through the press after his death by T. Chowdhury, who provided the first corrections and emendations (pp. i-iii, xvi). Takasaki in the course of preparing his 1966 translation noted many more, listing them in an appendix, pp. 396-399 (see also the corrigenda to that book, here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, corrigenda). Then J. W. de Jong in a 1968 review of Takasaki’s translation provided another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, review by de Jong). After that, Lambert Schmithausen in a long German article published in 1971 provided yet another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, Philologische Bemerkungen zum, Schmithausen 1971). He was able to use photographs of the Sanskrit manuscripts for these. In 1985 the Sanskrit Mahāyānottara-tantra-ṭippaṇī by Vairocana-rakṣita was published, edited by Zuiryū Nakamura (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). It provides many glosses on selected words and phrases, helpful for establishing both the meaning and the correct readings. Brunnhölzl used a later edition of it found in Kazuo Kano’s unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation. Brunnhölzl gives glosses from it in the notes to his translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. Yet another page of corrections to the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was given in Kano’s 2006 dissertation that Brunnhölzl acknowledges using (p. 1060, n. 1106). Kano recently informed me that he is preparing a new Sanskrit edition of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. This will bring together all these many needed corrections, as Brunnhölzl laboriously did for his careful translation, and more.

Brunnhölzl includes a translation of one more Sanskrit text in this book. In 1974 and 1975 Takasaki published the Sanskrit text of a brief upadeśa or “pith instruction” in 37 verses by Sajjana on the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, also discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). Brunnhölzl’s translation of this utilized a fuller Sanskrit edition including the interlinear glosses, found in the unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation by Kazuo Kano, and is based on Kano’s unrevised and uncorrected preliminary draft translation. Kano will be publishing a revised and corrected translation of this text shortly.

Brunnhölzl’s translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is also informed by several Tibetan commentaries. Two of these are included in English translation in this 1334-page book. Valuable as these commentaries are, this review is limited to the Sanskrit materials, as was my review of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra posted here on Dec. 31, 2014. Suffice it to say that the first of these Tibetan commentaries is a very early one apparently written by an anonymous student of the translator Mar pa do pa chos kyi dbang phyug (1042-1136). According to its colophon, it gives Mar pa do pa’s teachings and those of the Indian pandit Parahitabhadra. It is “A Commentary on the Meaning of the Words of the ‘Uttaratantra’.” Its English translation occupies pp. 473-694. The other one is by the Karma Kagyu teacher (B)dud mo bkra shis ’od zer (15th-16th century). It incorporates the otherwise unavailable topical outline of the Uttara-tantra written by the Third Karmapa, Rang ’byung rdo rje (1284-1339). It occupies pp. 695-776. Following this are translations of six short Tibetan texts pertaining to the Uttara-tantra, four of which are by the Kadampa teacher Skyo ston smon lam tshul khrims (1219-1299). 

In conclusion, Brunnhölzl has provided us with what is quite the most accurate English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga and its essential accompanying Indian commentary now available. Takasaki’s 1966 translation has deservedly held the field for nearly fifty years, and remains a necessary reference with its many grammatical notes. Brunnhölzl has fully utilized all the refinements of the Sanskrit text that have been published in the interim, has fully utilized the wide Tibetan exegetical tradition, and has employed more accurate and precise translation terminology that the intervening years have made possible.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 1 comment


The Sacred Four and the Emanation of the Primordial Seven

By Ingmar de Boer on January 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm


In the commentary on stanza IV śloka 2 (SD I, 88), it is described that, out of the sacred four, the primordial seven are produced:

The […] “Primordial” […] seven […] are the Ray and direct emanation of the first “Sacred Four,” the Tetraktis, that is, the eternally Self-Existent One […]. The first “Primordial” are the highest Beings on the Scale of Existence. They are the Archangels of Christianity, […]

They are the eternal tathāgatas or dhyāni buddhas of tantric Buddhism, or, as they are called most often in the SD, dhyān chohans. Note that the term dhyān chohan is also used in the SD in a broader sense, meaning deva or elemental spirit. In Buddhism the tathāgatas are eternal and unevolving. In SD I, 88 it is stated that they are latent in pralaya, and active during manvantara.

The Tetraktys

The sacred four are described as the tetraktys, the “holy tetrad”. In The Universal Over-Soul we have found that the sacred four are the four highest universal principles taken together. They are also called the self-existent one, svāyambhuva, or nārāyaṇa. Further, in the context of Kabbalism, they are called the tetragrammaton, which is the Hebrew four letter word IHVH, and Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. (SD II, 595) In the note in SD I, 99n we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; […]

The word Logos is generally used by HPB for the manifested Logos, which is what we have called earlier the Second Logos. Further, in SD II, 599 we find:

Tetragrammaton, or the Tetractys of the Greeks, is the Second logos, the Demiurgos.

Two Possible Misunderstandings

Later in the SD however, the tetragrammaton is identified with the “lower quaternary”. In CW X, 357 (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge), we find:

The Tetraktys by which the Pythagoreans swore, was not the Tetragrammaton, but on the contrary, the higher or superior Tetraktys.

We must conclude that the term tetragrammaton is not used consequently in the SD. Whenever it is used we must ask ourselves whether it refers to the “higher” or the “lower” quaternary.

In the same location (CW X, 357), the tetraktys is seemingly identified with the First Logos:

The true Pythagorean Tetraktys was the Tetraktys of the invisible Monad, which produces the first Point, the second and the third and then retires into the darkness and everlasting silence; in other words the Tetraktys is the first Logos.

In this case we can see that this passage does not describe the unmanifested logos which we have called the First, but the sacred four, the tetraktys, which manifests itself and retires at the end of the manvantara, which is indeed our Second Logos.

The Cube Unfolded and the Double Quaternary

In the SD, HPB does not provide an exact mechanism of how the primordial seven are produced from the sacred four. Two different symbolic connections between the four and the seven are given, one of which refers to the 1875 work of J. Ralston Skinner, Key to the Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery in the Source of Measures. On p. 50 of this work is described that when a cube is folded open, a cross may be formed consisting of one bar of 3 squares and another bar of 4 squares. One square, common to the horizontal and vertical bars, may be counted twice. So we have the cube folded open symbolically representing the equation 6 = 3 + 4.

menorahA similar symbolic representation is given on p. 51 of the same work, where the menorah (mənorāh) of the Jewish temple is described as having four arms on each side, the middle arm being in common to both sides, or projected onto itself, so representing the equation 4 + 4 = 7.

The other symbolic connection between the four and the seven, HPB gives in SD II, 599, apparently quoting Johannes Reuchlin, from his 1517 work De Arte Cabalistica:

[…] and the tetrad doubled or unfolded makes the hebdomad (the septenary).

doublequaternaryHere we have the equation 4 x 2 = 7. A representation of this can be seen in the following diagram. We can see that there is an equivalence between the double square and the symbol of the “seal of Solomon”, the centre principle being projected onto itself.

It seems however, that HPB quoted a large passage from the 1875 work of George Oliver, The Pythagorean Triangle, and not directly from Reuchlin. Oliver fails to provide the right page reference, and I have not been able to find the passage in De Arte Cabalistica. On p. 104 of The Pythagorean Triangle, we find:

[…] and the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad.

Both Oliver and Reuchlin are quoting from Hierocles on this matter. If we go back to Hierocles’ Commentary on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, in the 1853 edition of F.G.A. Mullachius, we find on p. 128, line 9, the quote on the “arithmetical mean” of the monad and the heptad, being the tetrad. (SD II, 599)
What follows (in lines 17-18) is

καὶ ὁ η´ ἐκ τοῦ δὶϛ δ [sic],

“and the eight from the twice four” (2 x 4 = 8), instead of “the tetrad doubled makes the hebdomad”. In this edition, the ‘ is missing after the δ.

In SD II, 599 there is another quote, also with a faulty page reference, apparently from Plutarchus’ De Animae Procreatione. This quote is also used in William Wynn Westcott’s work Numbers, their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, which was published as a book in 1890, but written in 1883. In Wynn Westcott’s work the passage looks like:

Plutarch, “De Anim. Procr.” 1027 [sic], says the world consists of a double Quaternary; 4 of the intellectual world, T’Agathon, Nous, Psyche and Hyle; that is Supreme Wisdom of Goodness, Mind, Soul, Matter and four of the Sensible World, forming the Kosmos of Elements, Fire, Air, Earth and Water; pur, aer, gē and πυρ, αῃρ, υδωρ.

So the two most significant elements concerning the double quaternary as yet prove to be unfounded: the Pythagorean world being a double Quaternary, and the hebdomad being a tetrad doubled. Returning to the equations, the 6 = 3 + 4, the 4 + 4 = 7 and the 4 x 2 = 7: in this context they all seem to express the same idea, that the primordial seven are “emanated” by the sacred four, so that, on the moment the fourth aspect comes into existence, the three eternals together with the fourth principle become a manifested tetrad, that is the Second Logos. The three are “mirrored” to become a new triad, while the fourth principle is unchanged, or, from a different perspective, the tetrad is mirrored to become a new tetrad, while the fourth principle is “counted double”, or projected onto itself.

The Ten and Seven Sefiroth

In the note in SD I, 99*, we find:

Adam Kadmon or Tetragrammaton is the Logos in the Kabala; therefore this triad answers in the latter to the highest triangle of Kether, Chochmah and Binah,

and in SD I, 98:

The esoteric Kabalists, however, following the Eastern Occultists, divide the upper Sephirothal triangle from the rest (or Sephira, Chochmah and Binah), which leaves seven Sephiroth.

From these two quotes, we may derive that in kabbalistic terms, in the tree of life, the three eternals are the three highest sefiroth (ISO 259: səp̄irōṯ), kĕṯĕr (səp̄irāh), ḥoḵəmāh and bināh. These three are emanated to become three manifested principles, being the three middle sefiroth, ḡəḇurāh, ḥĕsĕd and ṯip̄əʾĕrĕṯ. They are apparently mirrored (or transposed) downward to form the three lower sefiroth, hōd, nĕṣah and iəsōd. The lowest sefirah, maləkuṯ, corresponds to our fourth principle, according to HPB.
The Four and Seven Elements and Their Atoms

In SD II, 587 it is stated that the sacred four are identical to the four elements:

[…] the Four Elements, the “Sacred Four,” in their mystical, and not alone in their cosmical meaning;

Also in HPB’s quote from Wynn Westcott (above), attributed to Plutarchus, the “second quaternary” represents the “sensible world”, forming the Pythagorean “kosmos” of the four elements. In SD I, 82 we find how the first four principles should relate to the four elements:

Primordial matter, then, before it emerges from the plane of the never-manifesting, and awakens to the thrill of action under the impulse of Fohat, is but “a cool Radiance, colourless, formless, tasteless, and devoid of every quality and aspect.” Even such are her first-born, the “four sons,” who “are One, and become Seven,” — the entities, by whose qualifications and names the ancient Eastern Occultists called the four of the seven primal “centres of Forces,” or atoms, that develop later into the great Cosmic “Elements,” […] The four primal natures of the first Dhyan Chohans, are […]

The “primal centres of Forces” are called atoms, or aṇu in Sanskrit literature. They later become the elements in the sense that the atoms are the bases of the four and seven different types of matter in the universe. They are all meta-physical except the seventh, which is the domain of present-day physics. Its primal centre of force is the ultimate physical atom.

In SD I, 216, in a quote from the ancient “Commentary”, the elements are summed up alongside the various hierarchies of elemental entitities:

“The first after the ‘One’ is divine Fire; the second, Fire and AEther; the third is composed of Fire, AEther and Water; the fourth of Fire, AEther, Water, and Air.”* […] “The ‘First-Born’ are the LIFE, […],”** as said in the Commentary.

Four-Faced Brahmā

BrahmaAs is noted in the SD in several places (f.e. SD I, 542), Aṇu, the Sanskrit word for atom, is also a name of Brahmā. In an earlier article On the Eternal Germ we have been looking at quotes from various versions of the story of the birth of four-faced Brahmā, the universe, born from the navel of Viṣṇu. In Bhāgavat Purāṇa 3.8.16 (GRETIL) for example, we find:

tasyāṃ sa cāmbho-ruha-karṇikāyām avasthito lokam apaśyamānaḥ
parikraman vyomni vivṛtta-netraś catvāri lebhe ‘nudiśaṃ mukhāni

An English rendering of Eugène Burnouf’s 1840 French translation (t. 1, p. 191-192) would be something like:

Sitting in the centre of that plant, from where he did not see the world, his look wandering about the sky, Brahmâ took on four faces, each answering to one of the points of the horizon.

In this verse, a connection is made between the faces and the cardinal directions. In SD II, 464, the four faces are identified with the higher tetragrammaton. In Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (TBL, cf. CW X), on p. 71-72, most of the connections we have found so far in this article are summarised, and in the 2010 edition by Michael Gomes, The Secret Doctrine Commentaries, on p. 390, we also find that four-faced Brahmā is identified with the (higher) tetragrammaton:

[…] the four-faced Brahmā, the one who manifests on our plane and who is identical with the tetragrammaton also.

Summary of the Four and Seven Universal Principles

Enumerating all concepts (tetrads) we have found to be related, or analogous, to the sacred four, we have: the (higher) tetraktys, the self-existent one, the first four dhyān chohans (four sons, four first-born), the four highest universal principles (7th-4th), the (higher) tetragrammaton (IHVH), Adam Kadmon (heavenly man), the Second Logos, the demiurg, the higher quaternary, the four faces of Brahmā, and the four cardinal directions.

Enumerating all the sevenfolds we have found to be related to the sacred four, we have: the primordial seven, the seven dhyān chohans (tathāgatas, dhyāni buddhas, archangels, sons, fighters), seven universal (cosmic) principles, arms of the menorah of the Jewish temple, the double quaternary, the elements, sefiroth, seven primal centres of forces, atoms, aṇu, the seven types of matter in the universe, and the seven planes of the universe.

We have not been able to trace here, the individual correspondences for each of these in the SD, but some individual items are listed reliably. In Esoteric Instruction I in CW XII, 658, the universal principles are also listed, as “macrocosmic states of consciousness”, and “elements of manifested macrocosm”. They are added here, in the following table.

  Universal Principles Macrocosmic States Elements
  SD II, 596 CW XII, 658 SD I, 216
7 The Unmanifested Logos Ātmic Fire
6 Universal (latent) Ideation Alayic AEther
5 Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Mahātic Water
4 Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy Fohatic Air  
3 Astral Ideation, reflecting terrestrial things Jīvic  
2 Life Essence or Energy Astral  
1 The Earth Prakṛitic  

Category: Atom (anu), Brahma, Dhyan Chohans, Elements, Mahat, Sefiroth, Tetragrammaton, Tetraktys | 1 comment


Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra: A Review

By David Reigle on December 31, 2014 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Mahayanasutralamkara)

A new English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra came out last month (November, 2014): Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras: Maitreya’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee (Boston & London: Snow Lion, 2014). It was preceded by two other English translations of this text: (1) Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra by ‘Asaṅga,’ Sanskrit Text and Translated into English by Dr. (Mrs.) Surekha Vijay Limaye (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1992); and (2) The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra), By Maitreyanātha/Āryāsaṅga, Together with its Commentary (Bhāṣya), By Vasubandhu, Translated from the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese by L. Jamspal, R. Clark, J. Wilson, L. Zwilling, M. Sweet, R. Thurman (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2004). The new translation has been hailed as the most readable one now available. While readability is important, even more important is accuracy. It will be worthwhile to compare the existing translations using this criterion.

The 2014 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a translation of a translation, being made from the Tibetan translation in the Derge edition (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964), without reference to the Sanskrit original. This allows us to see how this text was understood in Tibet, as do the two accompanying commentaries written in Tibet in comparatively recent times. The value of this is that the Buddhist tradition has been lost in India, its homeland, for about a thousand years now. Thus, as I have noted elsewhere,1 the 1992 English translation made in India from the published Sanskrit text (without reference to the Tibetan translation) is quite unreliable. The obviously sincere and well-meaning translator acknowledges the help of her teacher and of her supervisor (Introduction, p. xxiii), who clearly were unfamiliar with the Buddhist teachings. The common Buddhist phrase, śaraṇa-gamana, “going for refuge,” is here translated as “recourse to surrender” (p. 24); the term pudgala, used throughout Buddhism to mean “person,” is here translated as used throughout Jainism to mean “matter” (e.g., pp. 244, 441, 447, etc.); the phrase giving the fundamental Buddhist doctrine, ātma-dṛṣṭi, “(false) view of self,” is here translated as “one’s own view point” (p. 69). The Tibetan tradition regards itself as having preserved the Indian tradition intact, giving the original meaning of the text unchanged. A welcome window into the Tibetan exegesis of this text is provided by the new translation. For the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra itself, however, modern scholarship must question whether a translation of a translation, however competently done, can take the place of a translation of the original, competently done.

The prior 2004 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra was also made from the Tibetan translation, but was then clarified and corrected by comparison with the published Sanskrit text, and with some reference to the early Chinese translation. When a text goes from a language having a very large vocabulary, such as Sanskrit, into a language having a much smaller vocabulary, such as Tibetan, something is inevitably lost. While the Tibetan tradition has no doubt correctly preserved the meaning of the Sanskrit text in general, to expect it to have captured every particular is unrealistic. Therefore, the translators of the 2004 translation felt the need to utilize the Sanskrit text. Because the Tibetan vocabulary is smaller than the Sanskrit vocabulary, one Tibetan word must translate more than one Sanskrit word. For example, in verse 6.3d (Sanskrit edition and 2004 English translation) or 7.3d (Tibetan translation and 2014 English translation), the Sanskrit word dharmamayaḥ was translated by the Tibetan words chos kyi rang bzhin. The Sanskrit word dharma is always translated by the Tibetan word chos, and is here used in its meaning, “the elements of existence” or “phenomena.” The Tibetan word rang bzhin most often translates the Sanskrit word svabhāva, “inherent nature.” This allowed the Tibetan words to be understood as the very common phrase used in philosophy, “the inherent nature of phenomena.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “This is the nature of phenomena.” Here, however, the Tibetan word rang bzhin translates the Sanskrit suffix, -maya, “consisting of.” The verse is talking about people (Skt. janaḥ, Tib. skye bo), saying that they “consist of phenomena”; it is not making a statement about the nature of phenomena. Accordingly, the 2004 translation has: “they [beings] . . . are objective,” where by “objective” we are to understand that they are “objects,” “things,” “phenomena” (dharma-s).

Similarly, when putting teachings into metrical verses, which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is composed of, words must often be altered or substituted to fit the meter. In Sanskrit texts, these words are usually restored in the accompanying commentary. In the Tibetan translations of these metrical verses, syllables must often be dropped to fit the Tibetan meter, which is regulated by the number of syllables per line of verse. Sometimes these omitted syllables are ones that provide necessary information, such as the declension or number of a word. Declensional endings, separate syllables in Tibetan, tell the reader how to take the word in the sentence. Without them, the reader is left to guess at the construal and intended meaning. For example, in verse 6.6c or 7.6c, the Sanskrit word dharmeṣu (locative declension, plural number) was translated by the Tibetan word chos la (accusative, dative, or locative declension, singular number). The syllable showing the plural number (rnams) was dropped to fit the meter. This allowed the word dharma or chos to be taken in the Tibetan translation in the singular, as “the Dharma,” i.e., the Buddhist teachings, rather than as the dharma-s, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “things.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “The bodhisattva contemplates the Dharma in a most decisive way”; while the 2004 translation has: “a bodhisattva becomes decisive in her judgment about things.”

The Tibetan translations are deservedly renowned for their high degree of accuracy in following the Sanskrit originals very closely. The Tibetan translations are much more literal than the great majority of English translations today. This literal accuracy has resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history. Because the Tibetan translations follow the Sanskrit originals so closely, their style is closer to Sanskrit than to native Tibetan. This at times can present a challenge in understanding them, and in translating these translations into English. When the Sanskrit text is available, ambiguities in the Tibetan translation can usually be clarified by reference to it. For example, the 2014 translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, made only from the Tibetan, erroneously has (verse 2.7): “Because of its [the Great Vehicle’s] vastness and profundity, maturation and nonconceptuality, its teaching is twofold.” The 2004 translation, clarified by comparison with the Sanskrit, has (verse 1.7, or verse 1.13 in the Sanskrit edition): “From the magnificent and the profound come evolutionary development and nonconceptual (wisdom). (The universal vehicle) teaches both, . . .” The verse does not say, “Because of its . . . maturation and nonconceptuality,” but rather speaks of its twofold teaching of vastness and profundity, saying that maturation comes from vastness, and nonconceptuality comes from profundity. This is unmistakable in the Sanskrit. Many more errors of this type could be cited, that would have easily been avoided by reference to the Sanskrit.

The long lost Sanskrit text of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and its accompanying commentary (bhāṣya) was discovered in 1898 in Nepal by Sylvain Lévi. It was then edited by him and published in Paris in 1907 (posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”), followed by his pioneering French translation in 1911. Lévi’s edition was based on a transcript made for him of a single manuscript,2 a paper manuscript written in 1677-1678 as we now know,3 and such manuscripts are notoriously full of scribal errors. Lévi’s edition became the basis of the 1970 edition by S. Bagchi, helpful because it corrects many misprints and other errors in Lévi’s edition (see Bagchi’s forty-page corrigenda), and these two became the basis of the 1985 edition by Dwarika Das Shastri. Lévi’s edition also became the basis of the 1992 translation by way of Bagchi’s edition, and was the Sanskrit text used for comparison for the 2004 translation. Lévi made many corrections to his 1907 Sanskrit edition in his 1911 French translation, and in 1958 Gadjin Nagao published eleven pages of corrections to Lévi’s edition, including those made by Lévi.4 Nagao’s corrections were based primarily on the Tibetan and Chinese translations and on Sthiramati’s sub-commentary (in Tibetan translation), and also on two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryukoku University Library.5 Accordingly, the 2004 translation says that “There are three known Sanskrit texts of the MSA” (Introduction, p. xxxiii), and the 2014 translation repeats this, referring to “the three extant Sanskrit manuscripts” (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964). In fact, additional Sanskrit manuscripts of this text exist in the Nepal National Archives.6 In 1985, Naoya Funahashi published chapters 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10 of a much needed revised edition, based on these additional manuscripts, and in 2000, a revised edition of chapter 11.7

The 2004 translation is the result of a longstanding effort involving several scholars, who produced a completed draft already by the end of the 1970s. So by 1980 the Sanskrit text had already been compared. Thus, the corrections by Lévi (1911) and Nagao (1958, as well as his later personal input) were utilized, but the revised editions by Funahashi (1985, 2000) were not utilized. Nor were the many corrections that Lévi had written in his personal copy of his edition, published only in 2001 thanks to the efforts of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, filling eight printed pages.8 In the last few years, Kazuo Kano has been publishing the edited Sanskrit text of eight folios of a very old palm-leaf manuscript of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and bhāṣya found at the Ngor monastery in Tibet.9 While these include valuable corrections, they also show that the Sanskrit text we have, disregarding scribal errors, is essentially the same as the one translated into Tibetan long ago. The 2004 translators shied away from referring to the “Sanskrit original” (Preface, p. x), because of the many errors in the comparatively late Sanskrit manuscripts found in Nepal (on one of which Lévi’s edition was based), but we can now certainly do so. The Tibetan translation, too, has numerous scribal errors, as may be seen by comparison between the various Tengyur editions.

A translation of the very helpful Sanskrit commentary that accompanies the verses, the bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, is included in full in the 2004 translation (and also in the 1992 translation, but this translation is simply too unreliable to take into account). The Tibetan translation of this commentary was, in effect, abridged by Khenpo Shenga (1871-1927), and was thus partially included in the 2014 translation by way of his commentary. Thus, good explanations of the often too brief verses are found in both the 2004 and 2014 translations. Sometimes the verses are not explained (or not fully explained) in the accompanying commentary, which is comparatively brief, so a larger commentary must then be consulted. In India, this larger commentary is the sub-commentary by Sthiramati, so far still lost in Sanskrit, but preserved in its Tibetan translation. In Tibet, the larger commentary by Ju Mipham (1846-1912) drew heavily upon the commentary by Sthiramati. A translation of Mipham’s lengthy commentary is included in full in the 2014 translation, bringing the page count of this translation to 929 pages. For the 2004 translation, Lobsang Jamspal read through the entire Sthiramati sub-commentary and adapted that translation accordingly.

The dust jacket of the 2014 translation quotes scholars describing it as an “outstanding translation,” and saying that “the translators have rendered this text . . . into the most accessible and readable English now available.” This is a polite way of adverting to the English of the 2004 translation as being less accessible and readable. An American longtime Buddhist put it more bluntly in an email reply to me shortly after the 2004 translation was published: “You are too kind to Thurman. I am disgusted that he took the serviceable version by ?? (forgot which Tibetan did it) [Lobsang Jamspal] and plugged in his ‘evolution,’ ‘genius’ and other ludicrous thurmanisms. I have tried to read it, but simply do not know what many of the thurmanisms correspond to. So it sits on the shelf. Thirty years wait and this is what we get! And he has no Tibetan-Thurman glossary so one could match up his goofy translation choices.” The English terminology in the 2004 translation is avowedly experimental (Preface, p. x), and Thurman’s translation choices for these terms were mostly adopted later in the joint translation process. Besides “evolution” or “evolutionary action” for karma, “evolutionary maturity” for paripāka (translated as “full maturation” in the 2014 translation), and “genius” for dhīmat (a common epithet of a bodhisattva, translated as “wise individual” in the 2014 translation), the 2004 translation employs translations such as “addictions” (or “mental addictions”) for kleśa. This basic term in Buddhism had long been translated as “defilements,” and more recently as “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”), as it is in the 2014 translation. The 2004 translation also switches back and forth between “his” and “her” pronouns throughout, even though the original text does not, in deference to modern sensibilities about respect to women. Even the title was a last-minute change, translating alaṃkāra as “literature” rather than as “ornament” (Introduction, p. xiii, fn. 3).

From Thurman’s lifelong work and publications, I have no doubt that his translation choices are motivated by the bodhisattva ideal of benefiting all sentient beings. With these new translation terms, he is apparently trying to reach a wider public. As an unintended consequence, the 2004 translation is harder to use by students of Buddhism who are accustomed to more standard translations of Buddhist terms, and who may well make up the book’s largest readership. Ironically, 27 years earlier in 1977, Thurman had rather harshly reviewed the translation of Longchenpa’s text, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, made by Herbert Guenther, who has become well-known for his unique choices of translation terms: “Unfortunately, Guenther ruins the whole thing, shrouding the jewel of the original with his own intellectual obscurities so that we catch only an occasional glint of its brilliance.”10 It is certainly true that a glossary would have helped the 2004 translation immensely, and one will no doubt be added in a future edition. As the first volume in the Tanjur Translation Initiative, this book was published under more difficult circumstances than normal, and subsequent volumes in this series do have glossaries.

We may now turn to a few example verses from the two translations. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya picked out verse 9.23 (or 10.23) as a key verse with which to open his book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien (The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism). This verse pertains to the question of the ātman or “self,” whose denial is considered to be one of the defining characteristics of Buddhism. The Sanskrit is given below from Lévi (1907) as corrected by Nagao (1958) and Funahashi (1985), and also in a footnote in the 2004 translation. As noted by Bhattacharya (2001, p. 6), it turns out that the incorrect Sanskrit reading found in Lévi’s 1907 edition, nairātmyānmārgalābhataḥ, is a silent emendation by Lévi himself. His manuscript had it correct except for a missing “r” (a small stroke under the “ga”), which threw him off the right track. Bhattacharya reproduces the actual manuscript folio that Lévi used, showing the reading, nairātmyātmāgalābhataḥ (at the very beginning of that folio). The Tibetan is given below from the Comparative Tengyur published in China (vol. 70, 2001, p. 823, lines 4-5, text of the verses only, having the present form ’gyur for the last syllable, and pp. 1196-1197, text of the verses with commentary, having the past form gyur for the last syllable, which I adopt in agreement with the Sanskrit past form gata).

śūnyatāyāṃ viśuddhāyāṃ nairātmyâtmâgra-lābhataḥ |
buddhāḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt gatā ātma-mahâtmatām || 9.23 ||

stong pa nyid ni rnam dag na || bdag med mchog gi bdag thob pas ||
sangs rgyas dag pa’i bdag thob phyir || bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur ||

9.23. In pure voidness buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness, and realize the spiritual greatness of the self by discovering the pure self. (2004 translation)

10.23. Within pure emptiness,
The buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness.
Thus they achieve the pure self,
And are hence the self of great beings. (2014 translation)

First, we see that both translations use “selflessness” for nairātmya (Tib. bdag med). The word selflessness in English has always meant unselfishness or altruism. Here it has been employed to mean something very different, the Buddhist teaching of the “absence of a self” in persons (pudgala-s), and according to Mahāyāna Buddhism, also in things or phenomena (dharma-s). If you are “in the loop,” if you are among those who have read a number of modern books on Buddhism, you will know this meaning and usage of the word selflessness. If you are not in the loop, this translation of nairātmya will make little sense.

Another translation of this verse, one that follows the Sanskrit very closely, was made by Paul Griffiths in a 1990 article (p. 52):11

“In pure emptiness,
By obtaining the supreme self which is without self,
Buddhas arrive at the great-selfed self
As a result of obtaining the pure self.”

The 2014 translation says that the buddhas “are hence the self of great beings.” While the Tibetan translation allows this English translation, the Sanskrit, both of the verse and of the commentary, does not. In the Tibetan words bdag nyid chen po, taken as “great being,” the nyid actually translates the Sanskrit abstract suffix -tā, “-ness,” on mahātmatā, literally “great-self-ness,” or “great-selfed” in the Griffiths translation, or just “greatness” in the 2004 translation.

Vasubandhu’s commentary tells us that this verse is about the highest self (paramâtman) of the buddhas in the uncontaminated (anāsrava) realm (dhātu, here Tib. dbyings, and also may be translated as space or element). Vasubandhu also tells us that it is the self (ātman) of the buddhas in the sense of “inherent nature” (svabhāva), important because both ātman and svabhāva are otherwise denied in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Unless we know that “intrinsic reality” translates svabhāva in the 2004 translation, as a glossary would tell us, we would miss this. Here is Vasubandhu’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1197, showing five variant readings, of which I cite only one):

tatra cânāsrave dhātau buddhānāṃ paramâtmā nirdiśyate | kiṃ kāraṇaṃ | agra-nairātmyâtmakatvāt | agraṃ nairātmyaṃ viśuddhā tathatā sā ca buddhānām ātmā svabhāvârthena tasyāṃ viśuddhāyām agraṃ nairātmyam ātmānaṃ buddhā labhante śuddhaṃ | ataḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt buddhā ātma-māhātmyaṃ prāptā ity anenâbhisaṃdhinā buddhānām anāsrave dhātau paramâtmā vyavasthāpyate |

zag pa med pa’i dbyings de la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag nyid kyi mchog ston te | ci’i phyir zhe na | bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid kyi phyir ro || bdag med pa mchog ni de bzhin nyid rnam par dag pa’o || de yang ngo bo nyid kyi don gyis sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag yin no || de rnam par dag na sangs rgyas rnams kyis bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid dag pa ’thob po || de bas na sangs rgyas rnams kyi dag pa’i bdag thob pa’i phyir bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur pa yin te | dgongs pa ’di* ni zag pa med pa’i dbyings la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag gi mchog rnam par ’jog go ||

*’dis in the Peking and Narthang editions.

“This shows the supreme self of the buddhas in the uncontaminated realm. Why? Because hers is the self of supreme selflessness. Supreme selflessness is completely pure suchness, and that is a buddha’s ‘self,’ in the sense of ‘intrinsic reality.’ When this is completely pure, buddhas attain superior selflessness, a pure self. Therefore, by attaining a pure self buddhas realize the spiritual greatness of self. Thus it is with this intention that buddhas are declared to have a supreme self in the uncontaminated realm.”

Khenpo Shenga’s commentary is here quite brief, extracting only a couple of points from Vasubandhu’s commentary. As found in the 2014 translation, Khenpo Shenga’s commentary on this verse follows. Words quoted from the verse itself are put in bold, a helpful feature.

Within pure emptiness, the buddhas achieve the suchness that is the supreme self of selflessness. Thus they achieve the supremely pure self, and hence they are the self that is the realization of great beings.”

Ju Mipham’s commentary is also comparatively brief here, making up less than half a page in the 2014 translation. Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse makes up two full pages in the English translation of chapter 9 of this commentary that is included in Cuong Tu Nguyen’s 1990 Harvard PhD. thesis (attached, see link in footnote).12 As a comparison of these commentaries on this verse will show, Mipham here takes little from Sthiramati, but instead comments more in accordance with the “Great Madhyamaka” ideas that form the basis of the Ri-mé or “non-sectarian” movement. Mipham was one of the major teachers of this late nineteenth-century movement in Tibet. Here is Mipham’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2014 translation:

“The pure and natural luminosity of emptiness is completely free from the self-manifestation of the adventitious defilements. In the absence of the twofold self of persons and phenomena, this is the actual nature of things, the supreme nature of the abiding reality, the intrinsic nature or essence itself. In achieving this, the buddhas have achieved a nature that is of complete purity. Thus, [to actualize] the suchness that is the unmistaken way things are is to be ‘the self of great beings.’ This self is not the same as the conceived object that is involved when apprehending the twofold self because such a self has no bearing on things as they are. The buddhas, however, have actualized the unmistaken abiding reality, which is the suchness of the twofold selflessness, free from the extremes of existence and nonexistence. That is the supreme self—‘the self of great beings.’”

The next example is from the third chapter (or fourth in the Tibetan translation). This is the first chapter on a Buddhist doctrinal topic, after the introductory chapter(s) and the chapter on going for refuge. Its topic is the gotra (Tib. rigs), a term that is very hard to translate adequately into English. David Seyfort Ruegg has distinguished three main meanings in Buddhist usage: 1. mine, matrix; 2. family, clan, lineage; 3. germ, seed.13 It is translated as “spiritual gene” in the 2004 translation, although in a 1979 draft of this translation that I have access to, it was translated as “heritage.” It is translated as “potential” in the 2014 translation. (It is left untranslated in the 1992 translation.) Verse 4 of this chapter gives its defining characteristics. The Sanskrit is given from Funahashi’s edition, agreeing with Lévi’s edition. The Tibetan is given from the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 810, lines 6-8, where the text of only the verses has a variant reading, and from vol. 70, p. 1152, lines 9-11, where the text of the verses with commentary has another variant reading. I have ignored a third variant reading that is obviously an error.

prakṛtyā paripuṣṭaṃ ca āśrayaś câśritaṃ ca tat |
sad asac câiva vijñeyaṃ guṇôttāraṇatârthataḥ || 3.4 ||

rang bzhin dang ni rgyas pa dang || de ni rten dang brten pa dang ||
yod med nyid* dang yon tan ni** || sgrol ba’i don du shes par bya ||

*gnyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions of the text of the verses with commentary.

**dang in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

3.4 “Natural, developed, support, supported, existent and nonexistent; it is to be understood in the sense of “delivering excellences.” (2004 translation)

4.4 “The natural and the developed
Are the support and the supported.
Present while not present,
It should be known to mean “freeing qualities.” (2014 translation)

Vasubandhu’s commentary explains this verse, as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1152, ignoring two variant readings that are obvious scribal errors):

etena catur-vidhaṃ gotraṃ darśayati | prakṛti-sthaṃ samudānītam āśraya-svabhāvam āśrita-svabhāvaṃ ca tad eva yathā-kramaṃ | tat punar hetu-bhāvena sat phala-bhāvenâsat | guṇôttāraṇârthena gotraṃ veditavyaṃ guṇā uttaranty asmād uddhavantîti kṛtvā |

’dis ni rigs rnam pa bzhi ston te | rang bzhin du gnas pa dang | yang dag par bsgrubs pa dang | rten gyi ngo bo nyid dang | brten pa’i ngo bo nyid de de dag nyid dang go rims bzhin no || de ni rgyu’i dngos por yod do || ’bras bu’i dngos por med do || rigs ni yon tan sgrol ba’i don du yang rig par bya ste | ’di las yon tan sgrol zhing ’byung ba’i phyir ro ||

“This shows the spiritual gene to be fourfold: existing by nature, being developed, having the nature of a support, and having the nature of the supported, respectively. It exists as a cause, it does not exist as an effect. The spiritual gene is to be understood in the sense of ‘delivering excellences’; because excellences are delivered—that is, emerge—from it.”

The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra chapter and Vasubandhu’s commentary thereon, consisting of thirteen verses, give the gotra teachings briefly. They are given more extensively, and in prose, in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, where they form the first chapter. Thurman writes in his Introduction (p. xxxv): “The BBh [Bodhisattva-bhūmi] follows the pattern of the MSA [Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra] very closely, which is why I consider it to be Asaṅga’s own ‘meaning-’ or ‘depth-commentary’ (Tib. don ’grel) on the text.” It certainly does give the teachings in more depth. This is especially true of the tattvārtha or “reality” chapter. This is the sixth chapter (or seventh in the Tibetan translation) of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, consisting of only ten verses. It is the fourth chapter of the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, consisting of twenty-one pages in the 1937 Unrai Wogihara edition (pp. 37-57), and of fifteen pages in the 1966 Nalinaksha Dutt edition (pp. 25-39) (both posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”). The central theme of this chapter in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi is the vastu, the “thing” in itself. The vastu is not even mentioned in this chapter of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. H. P. Blavatsky in a private letter of 1886, describing The Secret Doctrine that she was then writing, linked the “Book of Dzyan” with the secret book of Maitreya Buddha. By contrast, she referred to the known five books of Maitreya, which are written in verse, as blinds:

“I have finished an enormous Introductory Chapter, or Preamble, Prologue, call it what you will; just to show the reader that the text as it goes, every Section beginning with a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of ‘Maytreya Buddha’ Champai chhos Nga (in prose, not the five books in verse known, which are a blind) are no fiction.”14

Blavatsky’s description of the known verse works of Maitreya, including the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, as a “blind” seems to be fitting when we compare it to the much more detailed teachings in the prose Bodhisattva-bhūmi. Nonetheless, even a “blind” (if it is such), contains important teachings, however brief. The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra in this tattvārtha chapter speaks of the dharma-dhātu beyond mind in verses 7-8. These are key verses for the Yogācāra school of Buddhism, often held to teach “mind-only” (citta-mātra). Here are these verses in the two translations, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Lévi’s edition, transliterated and hyphenated by me) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 816, lines 6-11, ignoring one variant reading, and p. 1174, lines 4-9, also ignoring one variant reading, a different one). Note that dharma-dhātu is translated in the 2004 translation as the “ultimate realm,” and in the 2014 translation as the “basic field of phenomena.”

arthān sa vijñāya ca jalpa-mātrān saṃtiṣṭhate tan-nibha-citta-mātre |
pratyakṣatām eti ca dharma-dhātus tasmād viyukto dvaya-lakṣaṇena || 6.7 ||

nâstîti cittāt param etya buddhyā cittasya nâstitvam upaiti tasmāt |
dvayasya nâstitvam upetya dhīmān saṃtiṣṭhate ’tad-gati-dharma-dhātau || 6.8 ||

de yis brjod pa tsam du don rig nas || der snang sems tsam la ni yang dag gnas ||
de nas chos dbyings gnyis kyi mtshan nyid dang || bral ba mngon sum nyid du rtogs par ’gyur ||

sems las gzhan med par ni blos rig nas || de nas sems kyang med pa nyid du rtogs ||
blo dang ldan pas gnyis po med rig nas || de mi ldan pa’i chos kyi dbyings la gnas ||

6.7. And once aware that objects are mere verbalizations she securely dwells in the realm of mind alone with such (objective) appearance. Then she realizes intuitively that the ultimate realm is (immanently) present, free of the nature of duality.

6.8 Realizing intellectually that there is nothing apart from mind, she understands then that mind (itself) has no (ultimate) existence. Understanding that duality has no existence, such a genius dwells in the ultimate realm which has no (duality). (2004 translation)

7.7 Hence, knowing objects to be mere expressions,
The bodhisattva recognizes that such appearances are mind only,
And then realizes the basic field of phenomena,
Free from the characteristics of duality, in direct perception.

7.8 Becoming aware that there is nothing apart from the mind,
The bodhisattva also realizes that the mind does not exist at all.
Having seen that the two do not exist, the intelligent one abides
In the basic field of phenomena, which does not contain them. (2014 translation)

As we see, following upon the idea that nothing exists other than mind (nâstîti cittāt param), these verses say the bodhisattva realizes that the mind does not exist (cittasya nâstitvam). The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a fundamental text of the Yogācāra school, a school that is widely held to teach the existence of “mind-only” (citta-mātra), and thus is also called the Cittamātra school. The “Great Madhyamaka” tradition claims the five treatises of Maitreya as its source texts, saying that these texts do not teach “mind-only”; but rather they teach that mind, like all other phenomena, does not ultimately exist. These verses from the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra would be an important source reference in support of this assertion. Interestingly, although Mipham as a Ri-mé teacher is a major exponent of the Great Madhyamaka tradition, he does not bring out this point in his commentary on these verses.

The example verses quoted so far were chosen to illustrate important ideas found in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. They have not much illustrated the differences between the two translations in translation terminology. For this, we may look at verse 9.9 (or 10.9). Before doing so, we must note that the Tibetan translation of this verse differs from Lévi’s Sanskrit edition in two places. Neither Lévi in his corrections published long posthumously in 2001 nor Nagao in his corrigenda published in 1958 suggested emendations to this Sanskrit verse. So we are glad to see that the 2004 translation in a footnote (p. 76, fn. 16) gives emendations to this Sanskrit verse in three places, even though none of these three emendations fit the meter, and the third of these is unnecessary.15 The second of these emendations concerns the word ’jig tshogs found in the Tibetan translation. This is the standard translation of the Sanskrit word satkāya, which is not found in Lévi’s Sanskrit edition. However, Funahashi in his 1985 revised edition of this chapter shows that five Nepalese manuscripts do have satkāya here. The words sarvarakṣāpayānaṃ in Lévi’s edition thus should be sarvasatkāyayāna as in Funahashi’s edition. This also fits the meter. I give his revised text of this verse below. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse is not so easy to ascertain.16 I give the Tibetan from the text of only the verses in the Comparative Tengyur (vol. 70, p. 821, lines 13-16), which has one significant variant reading, and two insignificant ones that I have ignored. Likewise the text of the verses with commentary has two variant readings that I have ignored (vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21).

śaraṇam anupamaṃ tac chreṣṭha-buddhatvam iṣṭaṃ janana-maraṇa-sarva-kleśa-pāpeṣu rakṣā |
vividha-bhaya-gatānāṃ sarva-satkāya-yāna-pratata-vividha-duḥkhâpāya-nôpāya-gānāṃ || 9.9 ||

sangs rgyas nyid de skyabs ni dpe med mchog tu ’dod ||
sna tshogs ’jigs gyur ’jig tshogs kun dang theg pa dang ||
ngan song rnam mang sdug bsngal thabs min song ba rnams ||
skye dang ’chi dang nyon mongs ngan song* kun las srung || 

*las rnams in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

9.9 Supreme buddhahood is accepted as the incomparable refuge. It grants protection amidst births and deaths, amidst all addictions and hellish migrations, for all those who have fallen into various dangers, materiality, (inferior) vehicles, unremitting suffering of various kinds, hellish rebirths, and unliberating arts. (2004 translation)

10.9 The refuge of buddhahood is held to be incomparably supreme,
For it protects against the different fears, all of the transitory collection, the vehicles,
The numerous sufferings of the lower realms, the pursuit of nonmethods,
Birth, death, afflictions, and the lower realms. (2014 translation)

We notice in the 2004 translation three unique translation terms:

(1) “addictions” for kleśa-s (Tib. nyon mongs), translated as “afflictions” in the 2014 translation. As said above, “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”) has now become a frequent translation for kleśa-s in Buddhist texts, as has “afflictive emotions.” I have also seen “mental and moral afflictions.” These translations are based on the etymological and literal meaning of kleśa as “affliction.” Interestingly, “affliction” was also the earliest English translation of kleśa, found in James R. Ballantyne’s 1852 and 1853 translation of Yoga-sūtra books 1 and 2 (where they are enumerated at 2.3), and adopted by many other translators of this Hindu text up to the present. In previous translations of Buddhist texts this term was often given more descriptive translations such as “defilements,” “moral defilements,” “defiled emotions,” “passions,” etc. The kleśa-s are desire, hatred, delusion, pride, ignorance, wrong views, doubt, etc.

(2) “materiality” for sat-kāya (Tib. ’jig tshogs), translated as “the transitory collection” in the 2014 translation. The term “transitory collection” is not uncommon in English translations made from the Tibetan, since it is a translation of the Tibetan translation, ’jig tshogs, which in turn is a literal translation of the Sanskrit term, sat-kāya, as it is explained in Buddhist texts.17 This term is associated with the basic Buddhist teaching of ātma-dṛṣṭi, the “(false) view of self.” The transitory or perishable collection or aggregation refers to the body, feelings, thoughts, etc. (the skandha-s), that together make up a person, and which is falsely regarded as a permanent self. This term is therefore often given more descriptive translations. Thus, it is translated as “false views of self” in Cuong Nguyen’s translation of Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse (p. 359). Incidentally, Sthiramati takes the word “all” (sarva) with it in this verse, “all false views of self.”

(3) “unliberating arts” for na upāya (here used in a compound for anupāya in order to fit the meter, Tib. thabs min), translated as “nonmethods” in the 2014 translation. From the term “nonmethods” we can easily derive “methods,” a common translation of upāya, which is also often translated as “means.” Likewise, from “unliberating arts” we can derive “liberating arts,” which is used throughout the 2004 translation for upāya. This term is frequently seen with prajñā in the contrasting and complementing pair, “wisdom and means.” It is also frequently seen with kauśalya in the phrase, “skill in means.”

Another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation is “theology” for tarka (Tib. rtog ge), translated as “logic” in the 2014 translation and elsewhere. Thus, we read in verse 1.12 (Lévi Sanskrit edition) or 1.6 (2004 translation) or 2.6 (2014 translation):

1.6. Theology is dependent, indefinite, non-comprehensive, superficial, tiresome, and the resort of the naïve. Thus, this (universal vehicle) is not within its scope. (2004 translation)

2.6. Logic is dependent, uncertain,
Incomprehensive, relative, and tiresome.
It is held to be reliable by the childish,
And this is, therefore, not within the domain. (2014 translation)

As noted above, the anomalous use of “selflessness” has become accepted Buddhist jargon for those in the know. In combination, this leads to another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation, one that may take more than being in the loop to understand. In Vasubandhu’s commentary on verse 4.14 we read, “there is equanimity towards all things due to the understanding of objective selflessness.” In normal English, “objective selflessness” would mean “unbiased altruism” or “impartial unselfishness,” and this is something we might expect from a bodhisattva who has equanimity towards all things. Now that we are in the loop, however, we know that “selflessness” here means “absence of self,” not “altruism” or “unselfishness.” So we next need to determine what “objective absence of self” might mean. To do this, we must have studied Mahāyāna Buddhism long enough to know that it teaches two kinds of “absence of self”: that of persons and that of phenomena or things. We can then see that “objective selflessness” must mean “absence of self in objects,” i.e., in things or phenomena. Without such a background, I do not think that this phrase would be understood to mean this. This phrase is found in the 2014 translation as “selflessness of phenomena.” The word “phenomena,” too, has become accepted Buddhist jargon. A Christian theologian pursuing interfaith studies may not find either of these translations to be very comprehensible.

While the 2014 translation normally uses translation terminology that has now come in to common use, it does use a few uncommon or unique translation terms. These are, perhaps, harder to recognize in this translation because they are unexpected there. For example, it uses “intrinsic nature” for dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), a translation term that elsewhere almost always translates svabhāva (Tib. ngo bo nyid, rang bzhin). Thus, in verse 2.5 (= 1.11 in the Lévi Sanskrit edition), we read: “It [the Great Vehicle] does not conflict with the intrinsic nature”; while in the 2004 translation (= 1.5) we find, “it [the universal vehicle] does not run counter to actual reality.” The term “actual reality,” like “true reality,” is within the norm for dharmatā, whose most common translation is “true nature.”

Also unexpected in the 2014 translation is the translation of saṃjñā (Tib. ’du shes) as “identification.” There we read in verse 10.47: “When the identification of space has transformed, whatever is wished for manifests.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of saṃjñā as “conception” in verse 9.47: “In the transmutation of the conception of space, highest mastery is attained.”

Likewise the translation of vijñapti (Tib. rnam par rig pa) as “awareness” in the 2014 translation is unexpected and therefore apt to be confusing. There we read in verse 12.24: “The causes of delusion and delusion are held to be awareness of form and awareness without form.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of vijñapti as “idea” in verse 11.24: “The cause of error and error itself are considered to be the idea of matter and the idea of nonmateriality (respectively).”

These few unusual translation terms in the 2014 translation are very much the exception, and I call attention to them for the reason that they are unexpected there. The vast majority of the translation terms in the 2014 translation are ones that would be expected. Moreover, it does have a glossary, even though such glossaries are necessarily selective. Thus, for example, it leaves out “transcendence of suffering,” for nirvāṇa. Also, the English-Tibetan Glossary, through some glitch, omits all the words starting with “s”.

In one case, both translations use uncommon or unique translation terms. For jñāna (Tib. ye shes), common translations are “knowledge,” “wisdom,” “gnosis,” etc. The 2004 translation uses “intuition” for it, and the 2014 translation uses “wakefulness” for it. While such translations can provide helpful insights into the meaning of the original term, they can also make it harder to get the intended meaning, as may be seen in the following verse:

9.34. Just as clouds and so forth are thought to obscure the rays of sunlight, so the deficiencies of beings obscure the buddhas’ intuitions. (2004 translation)

10.34. It is held that the rays of the sun
Are obscured by things such as clouds.
In the same way, the wakefulness of the buddhas
Is obscured by the flaws of sentient beings. (2014 translation)

Both of these translations give the impression that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with the insights or awareness that the buddhas would otherwise have. Of course, the intended meaning is that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with their own realization of the wisdom or knowledge or gnosis possessed by the buddhas. This is clear in the translation of this verse by Cuong Nguyen:

9.34. Just as clouds and the like obstruct the sunlight, so the faults of sentient beings block the Buddhas’ wisdoms. (1990 thesis, p. 393)

The renowned accuracy of the Tibetan translations in very closely following the Sanskrit originals goes hand in hand with their use of standardized translation terminology. This was implemented quite early by royal decree, and was used throughout the entire body of Buddhist texts. This standardized translation terminology allowed Tibetans to know that chos is always dharma, for example, no matter in what text or who translated it. We do not have this in our English translations today, nor are we likely to, because of our individualistic natures. Thurman has noted that the śāstra texts comprising the Tengyur, of which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is one, are scientific treatises (pp. ii, vii, xvii). While their primary field is not the physical realm, as is that of the modern sciences of biology, chemistry, physics, etc., what they expound are similarly sciences that require the use of precise technical terms. Lacking standardized translation terms that all can agree on, we are obliged to add glossaries, or to add the Sanskrit terms in parentheses (as done by Étienne Lamotte in his valuable translations), or even to add the whole Sanskrit text (as is now frequent in translations of Hindu texts published in India). Things were different when the Buddhist texts were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. The use of standardized translation terminology, along with the literal accuracy of the Tibetan translations, together resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history.

In conclusion, the two translations of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra complement each other in important ways. The use of more standard translation terminology makes the 2014 translation more understandable, while the use of the Sanskrit original makes the 2004 translation more accurate. No serious student can afford to be without either of them.



1. The Works of Maitreya: English Translations, p. 7. Eastern Tradition Research Institute Bibliographic Guides, 2007: http://easterntradition.org/etri%20bib-maitreya.pdf.

2. See Sylvain Lévi’s Avant-propos to his 1907 Sanskrit edition. This edition is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_1907.pdf. An English translation of this Avant-propos was made by Umesh Jha and published, along with the French, as “A Rendition of Lévi’s Preface to the Sūtrālaṃkāra,” Bulletin of the Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, Darbhanga, Vols. IV-VI, Sept. 1968-Sept. 1970, pp. 202-209, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Levi’s Preface, Eng. The relevant portion is also quoted in French and translated into English by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya in his 2001 article, pp. 5-6 and fn. 5; for the full title and link, see note 8 below.

3. As Kazuo Kano informs us in his 2012 article, “Eight Folios from a Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic and Critical Editions on X.9-XI.3,” p. 33. See note 9 below for link.

4. Gadjin M. Nagao, “Corrigenda of the Text Edited by Professor Sylvain Lévi,” in Index to the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra (Sylvain Lévi Edition), Part One: Sanskrit-Tibetan-Chinese, pp. xi-xxii (Tokyo, 1958), here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara corrigenda Nagao 1958.

5. The two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryūkoku University Library were first reported on and studied by Shōko Takeuchi in his Japanese language article, “On Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra—brought by Ōtani Mission,” Ryūkoku Daigaku Ronshū, no. 352, Aug. 1956, pp. 72-87, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara brought by Otani Mission, Takeuchi 1956. Besides being consulted by Nagao, these two manuscripts were also used by Takanori Umino, in his English language article, “Corrections of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra XI. 35,” Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, Dec. 1973, pp. 513-508 (20-25), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Corrections of XI.35, Takanori 1973.

6. Two of these additional Sanskrit manuscripts from the Nepal National Archives were compared with Lévi’s edition by Risho Hotori, who published a “Concordance of the Sanskrit Edition and Two Manuscripts of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra,” in Tetsugaku Nempō, no. 43, Feb. 1984, pp. 83-90, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Concordance Two Manuscripts, Hotori 1984. These two manuscripts were used by Gadjin Nagao, along with the two from the Ryūkoku University Library, for his English translation of chapter 17, verses 29-64, with revised Sanskrit edition and list of corrections to Lévi’s edition, published as “The Bodhisattva’s Compassion Described in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000), pp. 1-38, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara 17.29-64 Eng. Skt. Nagao 2000.

7. Naoya Funahashi, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (Chapter I, II, III, IX, X), Revised on the basis of Nepalese manuscripts (Tokyo, 1985). This is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_partial_1985.pdf.

8. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, “For a New Edition of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Journal of the Nepal Research Centre, vol. XII, 2001, pp. 5-16, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, For a New Edition of, Bhattacharya 2001.

9. Kazuo Kano has kindly posted his many valuable articles at Academia.edu (https://koyasan-u.academia.edu/KazuoKano). This is very helpful because Japanese academic publications are not easily accessible here in the U.S.A., for example. Besides his article listed in note 3 above, his three other articles on the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra are: “Palm-leaf Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra from Ngor Monastery—Folio 27: XI.14-27—,” “The Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic Edition on XVII.37-39,” and “Vairocanarakṣita’s Glosses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya Chapter 17.” In his article listed in note 3 above (pp. 36-37) he gives information about other Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra manuscripts in Tibet. As access to these becomes possible, we may hope to eventually have a very accurate Sanskrit edition of this text. From access to an incomplete related text, the Sūtrālaṃkāra-paricaya, Ye Shaoyong was able to recover three verses, 2.9-11, that are absent in Lévi’s edition due to a missing folio: “Three Verses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra Missing in Sylvain Lévi’s Edition,” Journal of Sino-Western Communications, vol. 5, no. 1, July 2013, pp. 218-224, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, three missing verses.

10. Robert A. F. Thurman, review of Herbert V. Guenther, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, June 1977, pp. 222-228, here attached as: Thurman review of Guenther Kindly Bent to Ease Us.

11. Paul J. Griffiths, “Painting Space with Colors: Tathāgatagarbha in the Mahāyānasūtrâlaṅkāra-Corpus IX.22-37,” in Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota, pp. 41-63 (Tokyo, 1990), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara 9.22-37, Tathagatagarbha in, Griffiths 1990.

12. Cuong Tu Nguyen, Sthiramati’s Interpretation of Buddhology and Soteriology, Harvard University PhD. thesis, 1990, pp. 379-383, including verse 9.23, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara Sthiramati comm. 9.23 Nguyen trans.

13. D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 39, 1976, p. 354. This article is posted here under “References,” then “Studies,” then “Dhatu — Gotra (Eleven articles),” of which it is the fifth article, pp. 28-40 of that PDF.

14. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, London, 1925, p. 195.

15. The third emendation to this Sanskrit verse given in a footnote in the 2004 translation (p. 76, fn. 16) is pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāgānāṃ for Lévi’s pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyanopāyagānāṃ. Apparently this emendation is itself a typographical error, since it lacks a syllable and eliminates the word upāya, for which we have its standard translation thabs in the Tibetan text. Probably the intended emendation was pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāyagānāṃ. In any case, it is unnecessary. The use of the Sanskrit word “na” in a compound in order to fit the meter, here nopāya instead of anupāya, is not uncommon.

16. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse concerns the word pāpa (in kleśapāpeṣu), for which the Tibetan translation (in the Der-ge edition used in the 2004 translation, signified by “D” but not in the list of abbreviations) has ngan song, the standard translation of the Sanskrit word apāya. Since the letter “p” looks almost like the letter “y” in Sanskrit manuscripts, this allows the apparently easy emendation kleśāpāyeṣu, as given in the 2004 translation footnote. However, the long “ā” resulting from merging kleśa and apāya goes against the meter. The printed reading, kleśapāpeṣu, fits the meter, and is apparently found in all of the several Nepalese manuscripts collated by Funahashi. Since apāya is mentioned later in this verse, there would be no need to also have it here. Then, there is a variant reading in the Tibetan translation of this verse in the text giving the verses alone (but not in the text giving the verses and commentary together, Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21). For ngan song in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions, the Peking and Narthang editions have las rnams (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 821, line 16). The Tibetan word las translates the Sanskrit word karma (the rnams is the plural marker). This indicates that the Sanskrit manuscript(s) used for the Peking/Narthang edition had kleśakarmeṣu here. This also fits the meter. The Tibetan translation of Sthiramati’s commentary here has ngan song, seeming to confirm apāya, but it explains las, karma, in conjunction with nyon mongs, kleśa, the “mental/moral afflictions.” So we do not know whether Maitreya here spoke of protection from pāpa, “sins,” apāya, “bad rebirths,” or karma, “actions.”

17. The Sanskrit term sat-kāya looks like it should mean “real body,” or “truly existing body.” However, as explained in Buddhist texts such as the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya (5.7), here sat means sīdati. That is, it comes from the root sad, meaning “to break, decay, perish.” It is not the present participle or noun sat from the root as, meaning “existing, truly existing, real.” Also, here kāya is taken in its meaning, “assemblage, aggregation, collection” rather than “body.” The Tibetan ’jig tshogs is a literal translation of this, meaning “disintegrating collection,” and thus is taken as “transitory collection.”

Additional note: A four-language electronic edition of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is available at the University of Oslo Bibliotheca Polyglotta website. It includes Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and French. It is very convenient, but must be used with caution at present. This is because, judging by the many typographical errors, it does not seem to have been proofread. It can be found at: http://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=fulltext&view=fulltext&vid=85&cid=182062&mid=283928&level=1

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Fohat and Devī Prakṛti

By David Reigle on November 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Fohat is spoken of several times in the stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan. The term fohat has not yet been identified, nor can the idea that it represents be readily identified in extant cosmogonic texts. We were therefore happy to find that, after T. Subba Row in his lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā equated fohat with daivī prakṛti (which he called the light of the Logos), the hitherto secret Praṇava-vāda emerged giving a full explanation of devī prakṛti. This book was dictated from memory by the blind pandit Dhanarāja to Bhagavan Das and two associates in 1900-1901. In 1910 to 1913 a summarized English translation of the Praṇava-vāda made by Bhagavan Das was published in three volumes, and in 1915 and 1919 two volumes of the Sanskrit text were published (we still await the third). While the term daivī prakṛti can be found in the Bhagavad-gītā (chapter 9, verse 13), it is not there used in a cosmogonic sense, as it is used in the Praṇava-vāda, and as fohat is used in the Book of Dzyan. A full translation of the explanation of devī prakṛti from the Praṇava-vāda will be of considerable use in understanding fohat in the Book of Dzyan.

Bhagavan Das, in his preface to his summarized translation of the Praṇava-vāda, tells us that this book was written in an obscure and archaic form of Sanskrit. Referring to the blind pandit Dhanarāja who later dictated this book from memory to Bhagavan Das and his two associates, he writes: “At my further request, he repeated a paragraph in the middle of which occurred, like an islet in a stream, the four words recognisable to me [aham etan nāsmi], while on both sides thereof were masses of what was to me then entirely unintelligible language.” (vol. 1, p. lii). “As the writing proceeded my understanding of the archaic Samskṛt improved, . . .” (p. liv). “Although, on repeated reading, the language of the work becomes, generally speaking, intelligible, yet the precise sense remains often obscure and indefinable.” (p. lvii). For obvious reasons, then, my full translation of the Sanskrit text of the passage on devī prakṛti draws heavily on the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das. Because of the unique value of this material, it was thought worthwhile to provide a complete translation of it, following the Sanskrit as closely as English would allow.

As may be seen, the explanation of devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda closely matches Blavatsky’s explanation of fohat in The Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky refers to fohat as dynamic energy and as guiding power. Both energy and power are common translations of the Sanskrit word śakti, used to define devī prakṛti in the Praṇava-vāda. I have chosen “power” to translate śakti throughout, while Bhagavan Das more often translates it as “energy.” I have usually translated the same Sanskrit word with the same English word. So virodha is always “opposition” in my full translation, while in the summarized translation by Bhagavan Das he has the freedom to use “contradiction” or “opposition” in different settings. Blavatsky speaks of the opposite poles of spirit and matter, linked by fohat, as aspects of the one unity. For the one unity, the Praṇava-vāda uses the term aikya, which is translated by both Bhagavan Das and myself as “unity.” For spirit and matter, the Praṇava-vāda here uses the terms pratyag-ātman, “inner self,” and mūla-prakṛti, “root substance,” respectively. These are identified with aham, “I,” and etat, “this,” respectively, of the mahā-vākya or great saying, aham etan na, “I this not.” The na, “not,” refers to the relation between the “I” and the “this,” which is one of negation. These three words correspond to the “a,” “u,” and “m” that make up the sacred syllable “om,” the praṇava. This brief saying describes the entire world-process, and its three elements are the three aspects found in many cosmogonies. The idea of devī prakṛti is something in addition to these three, resulting from the necessity (āvaśyaka) of the opposition or contrast between the two poles of the one unity when the universe comes into manifestation.


The Secret Doctrine on Fohat

[The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 16.]

But just as the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are but aspects of the One Unity in which they are synthesized, so, in the manifested Universe, there is “that” which links spirit to matter, subject to object.

This something, at present unknown to Western speculation, is called by the occultists Fohat. It is the “bridge” by which the “Ideas” existing in the “Divine Thought” are impressed on Cosmic substance as the “laws of Nature.” Fohat is thus the dynamic energy of Cosmic Ideation; or, regarded from the other side, it is the intelligent medium, the guiding power of all manifestation, the “Thought Divine” transmitted and made manifest through the Dhyan Chohans, the Architects of the visible World. Thus from Spirit, or Cosmic Ideation, comes our consciousness; from Cosmic Substance the several vehicles in which that consciousness is individualised and attains to self—or reflective—consciousness; while Fohat, in its various manifestations, is the mysterious link between Mind and Matter, the animating principle electrifying every atom into life.


The Praṇava-vāda on Devī Prakṛti

[Note: All five published volumes of the Praṇava-vāda, the three volumes of the summarized English translation and the two very rare volumes of the Sanskrit edition, have been scanned by me and posted here with the Sanskrit Texts, under Suddha Dharma Mandala Texts. The following is translated from the Sanskrit volume 2, pp. 210-211, with reference to the summarized English volume 2, pp. 234-235.]

. . . Thus, everything is to be understood as included in the letter “a,” the letter “u,” and the letter “m,” which are conjoined with “I,” “this,” “not.”

So also, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” there is devī prakṛti (the “shining nature”). This is the power (śakti) described as the letter “i” dwelling between the letter “a” and the letter “u” [of aum]. It may be seen that the opposition of two things rooted in one is a matter of necessity, because the unnecessary is non-existent; and because this is non-existent, all is necessity. In accordance with this explanation, therefore opposition comes into existence, and this coming into existence is necessity. As thus indicated, the power in the form of the opposition of those two is devī prakṛti. In that is the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti). Therefore:

“Included in deva-prakṛti is root substance, and included in that is the inner self; and that [deva-prakṛti] is the necessity of the two in the form of the power manifesting/illumining everything.”

. . . and so on goes the traditional statement. Devī is the power by which [something] is illumined (dīvyate). Prakṛti is inherent nature (svabhāva). Prakṛti is that by which coming-into-existence (bhavana) is very much by its own effort. Prakṛti is doing/acting (prakaraṇa), its own doing/acting (svakaraṇa). It is from the verb-root “kṛ” plus the affix “ti.” An action (karaṇa) for all is an action for itself (svakaraṇa). This is in accordance with the explanation that, due to the unity of all, itself is all. Because it is a necessity for all, its name is devī prakṛti. Therefore it is said:

“Prakṛti is twofold. Of these, one is devī prakṛti, and the second is mūla-prakṛti (root substance). The nature of mūla-prakṛti is the subject-matter of ‘this’ [etat, in the great saying, aham etan na, ‘I, this, not.’].”

. . . and so on. The double nature of devī prakṛti is to be known as necessity. It is the conjunction (yoga) of the inner self and root substance. This [conjunction] is the result of the opposition of the unity. From the Yoga-sūtra:

“In unity there is no manifestation/illumination (prakāśa) of the conjunction, etc., the conjunction being the illumining (avabhāsamāna) of object and subject, like darkness and light (prakāśa).”

As being the necessity of that conjunction, it is yoga-māyā (conjunction-illusion). As being the necessity of the manifestation/illumination of that opposition, it is māyā (illusion). That is devī prakṛti, which lights up (abhidyotayati) the inner self and root substance. Devī prakṛti is to be understood as dwelling between the two in the form of the letter “i.” That by which the manifestation/light (prakāśa) of the inner self (pratyag-ātman) and of root substance (mūla-prakṛti) occurs, the experience of the many, is to be known under the name “devī.” This devī prakṛti is māyā. Of them, the difference is as follows: When speaking of the transcendent and universal, it is māyā. When speaking of saṃsāra, the world-process, as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “I” and “this,” and as the necessity of the opposition of the unity of “this” and “I,” it is devī prakṛti.

Category: Daiviprakriti, Fohat | 1 comment


Sanskrit Texts Listings

By David Reigle on November 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

It has come to my attention that the Sanskrit texts posted on this site are not being found by web searches without using diacritics. So, for example, a search for the Vimalaprabha does not find the Vimalaprabhā volume posted here, and a search for Nagarjuna does not find the Sanskrit texts by Nāgārjuna that are posted here. To remedy this situation, I have inserted in brackets the Sanskrit names without diacritics in the listings.

Category: Sanskrit Texts | No comments yet


Critical Editions of the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on August 31, 2014 at 11:57 pm

In the post dated May 5, 2012, attention was called to the critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, edited by M. M. Pathak, and published in two volumes, 1997 and 1999 (Vadodara: Oriental Institute). A comment on that post called attention to three previously published critical editions of purāṇas: The Vāmana Purāṇa (1967), The Kūrma Purāṇa (1971), and The Varāha Purāṇa (2 vols., 1981), all edited by Anand Swarup Gupta, and published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi. Two more critical editions of purāṇas have been published, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. Their bibliographic data is:

The Bhāgavata [Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa]: Critical Edition, edited by H. G. Shastri, et al., 4 vols. in 6 parts, Ahmedabad: B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, 1996-2002 (vol. 1, skandhas 1-3, ed. by H. G. Shastri, 1996; vol. 2, skandhas 4-6, ed. by Bharati K. Shelat, 1999; vol. 3, skandhas 7-9, ed. respectively by H. G. Shastri, B. K. Shelat, and K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 1, skandha 10, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1997; vol. 4, part 2, skandhas 11-12, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 3, Epilogue, by K. K. Shastree, 2002).

The Critical Edition of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇam, edited by M. L. Wadekar, 2 vols., Vadodara: Oriental Institute, 2011 (vol. 2, adhyāyas 76-88, is the Devīmāhātmyam).

Besides these critical editions of six of the eighteen major purāṇas, three volumes (in four parts) of a critical edition of an earlier and more original version of the massive Skanda-purāṇa have been published (to be completed in about ten volumes):

The Skandapurāṇa, vol. I, adhyāyas 1-25, edited by Rob Adriaensen, Hans T. Bakker, and Harunaga Isaacson, 1998; vol. IIa, adhyāyas 26-31.14, ed. by Hans T. Bakker and Harunaga Isaacson, 2005; vol. IIb, adhyāyas 31-52, ed. by Hans T. Bakker, Peter C. Bisschop, and Yuko Yokochi, 2014; vol. III, adhyāyas 34.1-61, 53-69, ed. by Yuko Yokochi, 2013. Supplement to the Groningen Oriental Studies, Groningen: Egbert Forsten, and Leiden: Brill.

An earlier and more original version of the Agni-purāṇa has also been published, although not in a critical edition. Its discovery was announced by R. C. Hazra in his 1956 article, “Discovery of the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa” (attached). It was published as:

Vahni-Purāṇam, also referred to as Āgneya-Purāṇam, edited by Anasuya Bhowmik. Bibliotheca Indica Series, no. 336. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society, 2012 (includes as an Introduction the extensive 2-part article by Rajendra Chandra Hazra titled, “Studies in the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa alias Vahni-Purāṇa,” originally published in 1953 and 1954).

Additionally, we have a critical edition of the Harivaṃśa, a purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata. It was edited by Parashuram Lakshman Vaidya, and published in 1969, with an additional large volume of Appendices in 1971 (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute).

We anxiously await the publication of the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa, which is underway at the Oriental Institute, Vadodara. The Vāyu-purāṇa is, by general consensus, considered to be the oldest of the extant purāṇas. It, too, like all the others, has undergone revision and alteration, additions and subtractions. But it retains more of the core, presumably the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, than the other extant purāṇas do (see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā,” dated Aug. 14, 2012).

For purposes of research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the Vāyu-purāṇa is of most importance. Of similar importance is its twin, somewhat more expanded version, the extant Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa. Of the thousands of verses shared in common between these two purāṇas, hundreds have been found in the extant Matsya-purāṇa, and in the Harivaṃśa. The contents of these verses are often found in the extant Viṣṇu-purāṇa and Bhāgavata-purāṇa, but condensed and re-written. Thus, the traces of Prakrit found in the Sanskrit of these ancient verses have disappeared in these re-written condensations, even though the basic information remains. Besides these purāṇas containing ancient material, the archaic character of the extant Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa has been noted since the beginning of purāṇa studies by Western investigators, and has been fully confirmed by the investigations of purāṇa specialist, Rajendra Chandra Hazra.

In his still standard 1940 book, Studies in the Purānic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, R. C. Hazra took a different approach than the historical approach taken by F. E. Pargiter and S. P. L. Narasimhaswami. Hazra carefully evaluated the authenticity of the major purāṇas on the basis of quotations from them found in the smṛti-nibandhas, works on Hindu rites and customs, and on the basis of descriptions of their contents found in the other purāṇas. He found that only seven of the now extant purāṇas can legitimately claim to be the major purāṇas known to the smṛti-nibandha writers and described in the other purāṇas, while the remaining eleven of the eighteen major purāṇas are either extensive alterations or complete substitutions. The seven more or less authentic extant major purāṇas are the Mārkaṇḍeya, Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Viṣṇu, Matsya, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma, while the eleven erstwhile major purāṇas that must now be regarded as minor purāṇas are the extant Vāmana, Liṅga, Varāha, Padma, Nāradīya, Agni, Garuḍa, Brahma, Skanda, Brahma-vaivarta, and Bhaviṣya. He also regards the extant Śiva-purāṇa, usually classed as one of the eighteen (or nineteen) major purāṇas, as a minor purāṇa, based on its content. Hazra’s findings agree with the findings of previous investigators as to which are the oldest purāṇas now extant, adding to these only the Kūrma-purāṇa, and that with considerable qualifications (see his book, pp. 57-75).

There are, then, seven extant purāṇas that are of much importance for research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. These are the Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Viṣṇu, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma. Similarly important is the purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṃśa. Of these eight texts, we now have critical editions of five: the Harivaṃśa (1969-1971), the Kūrma-purāṇa (1971), the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (1996-2002), the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, (1997-1999), and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa (2011). Once the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa is published, we will be in a position to undertake research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā with the hope of reasonably reliable results.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda, part 3

By David Reigle on July 31, 2014 at 9:53 pm

The previous two parts of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda,” posted Feb. 26 and 27, 2012, discussed the little-known kind of svabhāvavāda seen in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda, and in the Book of Dzyan. The Book of Dzyan and the Praṇava-vāda are hitherto secret texts unknown to history, while the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā is a text known to history that refers to this kind of svabhāvavāda, and accepts it as its own. The Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, however, is not on cosmogony, so it does not give us a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda. For this, we must look elsewhere. Fortunately, such a cosmogony account is found in the Mokṣopāya, and in its later version, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha (see the post, “The Mokṣopāya, the unrevised Yoga-vāsiṣṭha,” dated April 13, 2012). This account was translated and posted on July 1, 2012, as “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Mokṣopāya.” Here we have an actual example from a historically known text of a cosmogonic account that accords with this kind of svabhāvavāda.

As noted in that post, Mokṣopāya, book 3, chapter 12, verses 3 and 8 say that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of brahman, or pure consciousness (cit). This is like the teaching of the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā that manifestation is the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the deva, i.e., the one brahman or ātman. This is also like the teaching of the Book of Dzyan that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one element. By contrast, the svabhāvavāda that is historically known says that the world is the result of the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the elements or things that make it up. The things that make up the world are caused by themselves, and nothing else. Ramkrishna Bhattacharya has distinguished from this another historically known svabhāvavāda that rejects causality. In his 2007 article, “What is Meant by Svabhāvaṃ Bhūtacintakāḥ?” (attached), he writes that svabhāva also came to be understood as “chance” or “accident,” the same as the Sanskrit term yadṛcchā. Especially in the moral sphere is svabhāva used in two opposing ways, as causality and as chance. As chance, things occur without a cause; hence, effort is useless.

For the past thousand years and more, svabhāvavāda has been associated with the Cārvāka or Lokāyata school of thought, the so-called materialists or atheists or skeptics of ancient India. Both this school, and svabhāvavāda, the doctrine of svabhāva, have been looked down upon. V. M. Bedekar in his article, “The Doctrines of Svabhāva and Kāla in the Mahābhārata and Other Old Sanskrit Works,” writes (pp. 5-6): “The thorough-going determinism of these doctrines is based on crass materialism, according to which everything in the world including human life is the product of the Material Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space) which come together and go off at the behest of Svabhāva, Kāla etc.” (link given in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”). The idea that human effort is in vain, as what the doctrine of svabhāva leads to, can be clearly seen in the verses from Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddha-carita on this (quoted in part 1 of “Prehistoric Svabhāvavāda”), e.g.: “Some explain that good and evil and existence and non-existence originate by natural development [svabhāvāt, ablative]; and since all this world originates by natural development [svābhāvika], again therefore effort is vain.” (chapter 9, verse 58). Ramkrishna Bhattacharya distinguished this type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as chance or accident, from the other type of svabhāvavāda, svabhāva as causality, saying that svabhāva as causality should be associated with the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, not svabhāva as chance or accident.

My speaking of “prehistoric svabhāvavāda” is to distinguish between two kinds of svabhāva as causality. The historically known svabhāvavāda as causality holds that everything arises from its own inherent nature (svabhāva). What I have called prehistoric svabhāvavāda holds that everything arises from the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one, whether this be called the one brahman or ātman, the deva (the shining one), cit (pure consciousness), or the one element. This is the meaning of svabhāva found in the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine, and in Gārgyāyaṇa’s Praṇava-vāda. To distinguish it from the historically known svabhāvavāda as causality, as well as from svabhāva as chance or accident, I have called it “prehistoric svabhavavada,” even though reference to it can still be found in Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā, and it can still be seen in the cosmogony of the Mokṣopāya and its later form, the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha.

Category: Svabhavat | 2 comments


Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript Errata

By David Reigle on June 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm

A list of eighteen possible errata to this book has kindly been sent to me by Vladimir Sova. The first of these corrections had previously been sent to me by Jacques Mahnich. Sixteen pertain to the Würzburg Manuscript portion of the book, and the last two pertain to the appendix on chronology.

Of these sixteen, the third (“has epoch” for “his epoch”), the seventh (“Kabalstic” for “Kabalistic”), and the twelfth (“Vertical Atoms” for “Vortical Atoms”) are our typographical errors. For the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, the text given in the book is as found in the Würzburg manuscript. Except for two of these, they are scribal errors of the copyists. These errors should be corrected.

The thirteenth (“Uncreate”) and sixteenth (“000,000,000”) are not errors. See The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 250, and vol. 2, p. 696, where these same two passages occur.

The seventeenth (“predilictions” for “predilections”) is a misspelling that is found in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 88. The eighteenth (“London, when” for “London, where”) is our scribal error. The source has “where,” not “when.”

Many thanks to Vladimir for finding and sending these errata. Much appreciated.




Should be

page 11, line 20 from above

amende hons rable

amende honorable

page 20, line 9 from above

as night! Two

as night, two

page 32, line 2 from below

has epoch;

his epoch;

page 40, line 12 from below

non demonstrated

now demonstrated

page 76, line 11 from below

subtlety and casuisty

subtlety and casuistry

page 95, footnote, line 11

Didna Astarte

Diana Astarte

page 128, line 8 from below

Kabalstic names

Kabalistic names

page 148,  line 10 from above

its Karma. All the

its Karma, all the

page 162, line 1 from above

motion. “Darkness”

motion. (3) “Darkness”

page 162, line 7 from below


(7) Kala-hansa

page 176, line 1 from below



page 194, line 6 from below

Vertical Atoms

Vortical Atoms

page 226, line 7 from above



page 230, line 6 from above



page 253, line 8 from below

without break or flow

without break or flaw

page 255, line 5 from below


100,000,000 [or some other valid number]

page 263, line 18 from above



page 334, line 16 from above

London, when

London, where



Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript digital

By David Reigle on June 22, 2014 at 3:29 am

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript book in digital or electronic format can now be downloaded free of charge from the Eastern Tradition Research Institute website: http://www.easterntradition.org/SD%20Wurzburg%20ms.%20complete%20book%20bc.pdf.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Buddhica Britannica Series Continua

By David Reigle on May 31, 2014 at 6:50 pm

An important but not well enough known series of Buddhist books is published by the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Tring, U.K. The Buddhica Britannica Series Continua includes considerable material pertaining to the Buddhist tantras (rgyud sde, earlier phoneticized as kiu-te). Behind this series is Dr. Tadeusz Skorupski, who succeeded Dr. David Snellgrove in teaching Buddhist Studies and Tibetan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As is well known, Dr. Snellgrove produced the first ever English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Hevajra Tantra (1959), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. Dr. Skorupski has continued this work on the Buddhist tantras in an exemplary manner. He, too, produced an English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra (1983), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. In the Buddhica Britannica Series Continua he has provided an abridged English translation of another tantric text, the Kriyāsaṃgraha (2002), a compendium of Buddhist rituals. The most recent publication in this series is the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta (2 vols., 2009), edited in Sanskrit and Tibetan by Masahide Mori, which began as a PhD thesis under Dr. Skorupski. This famous but hitherto unedited text is an extensive compendium of tantric maṇḍalas, including the Kālacakra maṇḍala (pp. 207 ff., 299 ff.). A brief listing of the currently available texts in this series follows:

BBI The Buddhist Heritage, ed. T. Skorupski, 1989, £20

BBBII Indo-Tibetan Studies, ed. T. Skorupski, 1990, £25

BBBIII The Rishukyō, I. Astley-Kristensen, 1991, £27

BIV The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla, M. Boord, 1993, £21

BBV The Bodhisattvapiṭaka, U. Pagel, 1995, £40

BBVIII Tales of an Old Lama, C. R. Bawden, 1997, £14.50

BBIX The Six Perfections, T. Skorupski, 2002, £12.50

BBX Kriyāsaṃgraha, T. Skorupski, 2002, £19.50

BBXI Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta, ed. Masahide Mori, 2 Vols., 2009, £50

BFVI The Buddhist Forum, Volume VI, 2001, £17.50

Institute of Buddhist Studies

36 King Street, Tring, Herts, HP23 6BJ, U.K.

Phone 01442 / 890 882

email: ts1@soas.ac.uk

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript

By David Reigle on May 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript has now been published. It includes H. P. Blavatsky’s first translations of stanzas from the Book of Dzyan with her unrevised commentaries on them. Only the stanzas from the Würzburg manuscript had been published until now, not her unrevised commentaries on them. These comprise cosmogenesis, and a few on anthropogenesis. The Würzburg manuscript also includes a large introductory section, comprising about half the book. Most of the chapters in this introductory section were later published in the 1897 third volume of The Secret Doctrine. As with the commentaries on the stanzas, here we have her unrevised versions.

The so-called Würzburg manuscript is a partial copy of Blavatsky’s early manuscript of The Secret Doctrine, written while she was staying at Würzburg, Germany, and then at Ostende, Belgium, in 1885 and 1886. Her manuscript of the almost completed Secret Doctrine was copied by two or more scribes to send to India for revision by T. Subba Row, which revision did not occur. Only part of this copy has been found. What we have is estimated to be about a fourth or a third of the whole that was sent to India. Fortunately, it includes the whole cosmogenesis section, all seven stanzas and their commentaries.

The book is available at Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?type=Print+Products&keyWords=secret+doctrine+wurzburg+manuscript&x=15&y=9&sitesearch=lulu.com&q=

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vaiśeṣika System

By David Reigle on May 7, 2014 at 9:58 pm

The Vaiśeṣika system, one of the six Hindu darśanas (worldviews or schools of philosophy), is not known for its cosmogony. It is known as an ancient Indian system of atomism. The cosmogony it has is the manifestation and dissolution of the four great elements (mahā-bhūta) that form the world (earth, water, fire, and air), and these are made up of ultimate atoms (paramāṇu). Here we find one of its most interesting teachings. Its ultimate atoms, which are apparently not atoms of physical matter, do not dissolve when the cosmos dissolves, but rather remain in a dissociated state. Such an idea has recently been brought to the attention of some modern scientists when the present Dalai Lama spoke of it at the Mind-Life Conferences. In these dialogues, he presented a Buddhist view of cosmogony, including empty ultimate atoms that remain when the cosmos goes out of manifestation.1 This idea comes from the Buddhist Kālacakra system, without cognizance of its parallel and possible origin in the more ancient Vaiśeṣika system. Such an idea is apparently also found in the allegedly even more ancient “Book of Dzyan,” according to a phrase from a commentary on it brought out by H. P. Blavatsky in 1888. She writes of “MOTION, which, during the periods of Rest ‘pulsates and thrills through every slumbering atom’ (Commentary on Dzyan)” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 116).

The idea of eternal ultimate atoms, which remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of existence, does not present a problem for the Vaiśeṣika system. This is because the Vaiśeṣika system is regarded as pluralistic, so there can more than one thing or category of things that is eternal. Thus, besides eternal ultimate atoms, the Vaiśeṣika system also teaches eternal selves or souls (ātman), etc. The idea of eternal ultimate atoms also does not present a problem for Jainism, in which it is also found. The Jaina teaching on these atoms is similar to that of Vaiśeṣika, although according to Jainism the cosmos never goes out of manifestation. Jainism, too, is regarded as pluralistic. The idea of eternal ultimate atoms does, however, present a problem for the Buddhist Kālacakra and for Theosophy, neither of which are regarded as pluralistic systems. While early or southern Buddhism is regarded as pluralistic, Kālacakra is part of Mahāyāna or northern Buddhism, which is not. Early Buddhism, like Vaiśeṣika Hinduism and like Jainism, teaches the existence of ultimate atoms; but unlike in Vaiśeṣika and in Jainism, the ultimate atoms in early Buddhism are not eternal. They do not remain when the cosmos dissolves. The non-eternal aspect of this idea was acceptable to the Mahāyāna Buddhist schools, but these schools specifically refuted the early Buddhist atomism on the basis of its plurality. Likewise, the non-dual Advaita Vedānta school of Hinduism specifically refuted the Vaiśeṣika atomism on the basis of its plurality.

Like Advaita Vedānta, Theosophy is non-dualistic. This was stated in unmistakable terms by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 120): “The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyāni-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.” We therefore do not expect to find a commentary on the Book of Dzyan speaking of “slumbering atoms” during the period of rest of the cosmos. Is this phrase merely metaphorical, just poetic license? Apparently not. Seven years before Blavatsky published this extract from a commentary on the Book of Dzyan, her teacher, the Mahatma Morya, explained this idea to A. O. Hume in the so-called “Cosmological Notes” (published as Appendix II in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, 1925, pp. 376-386). He was asked, “And is cosmic matter non-molecular?” His reply surprisingly spoke of the seventh principle, equivalent to the non-dual ātman taught in Advaita Vedānta, as molecular:

“Cosmic matter can no more be non-molecular than organised matter. 7th principle is molecular as well as the first one, but the former differentiates from the latter, not only by its molecules getting wider apart and becoming more attenuated, but also by losing its polarity. Try to understand and realise this idea and the rest will become easy.” (pp. 379-380)

The Mahatma Morya then explained this with reference to eternal ultimate atoms, which remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of existence:

“The night of the solar system, the pralaya of the Hindus, the Maha bar do or great night of mind of the Tibetans, involves the disintegration of all form and the return of that portion of the universe occupied by that system, to its passive unmanifested condition, space pervaded by atoms in motion. Everything else passes away for the time, but matter which these ultimate atoms represent (though at times objective, at times potential or subjective, now organised, now unorganised) is eternal and indestructible, and motion is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter. Even therefore during the night of mind, when all other forces are paralysed, when Chyang—omniscience, and Chyang mi shi kon—ignorance, both sleep, and everything else rests, this latent unconscious life unceasingly maintains the molecules in which it is inherent in blind resultless and purposeless motion inter se [“among themselves”].” (p. 384)

This unusual idea, of eternal ultimate atoms remaining when the cosmos goes out of manifestation, was preserved in the Vaiśeṣika system. I say “preserved” because the early Vaiśeṣika commentaries known to have once existed, such as the Vaiśeṣika-Kaṭandī, the Ātreya-bhāṣya, the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, the Bhāradvāja-vṛtti, etc., are all lost.2 Even the primary Vaiśeṣika-sūtras themselves, by Kaṇāda, had not been preserved intact, and their original readings were only recovered when two intermediate-age commentaries were discovered and published in 1957 and 1961.3 The Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, as now extant, do not include cosmogony. The Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony is found in the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha, written by Praśastapāda, so also called the Praśastapāda-bhāṣya, the “Commentary by Praśastapāda.” It is not, however, a direct commentary on the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, but rather is a compendium (sagraha) of the Vaiśeṣika teachings. This compendium became the most influential work on Vaiśeṣika, overshadowing even the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras. It is early enough that it certainly preserved a number of teachings from the older and now lost Vaiśeṣika commentaries. The cosmogony account is apparently one of these, since it and its idea of ultimate atoms remaining during dissolution is cited in the Buddhist Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya (chapter 3, verse 100) from about the fourth century C.E. But it also includes a very influential teaching that, according to the Yukti-dīpikā (a hitherto lost Sāṃkhya commentary that was discovered and published in 1938), is an innovation.

The Vaiśeṣika system in association with its sister Nyāya system jointly became known in India as proponents and upholders of the God idea. This is despite the fact that the term īśvara, “God,” is not found in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras, and that it is only once mentioned in the Nyāya-sūtras along with other possible causes of the world that are there rejected in favor of karma. The absence of the teaching of God in the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika source texts provides evidence that the God idea is in fact an invention or innovation (upajñam), as the Yukti-dīpikā says (see: “God’s Arrival in India,” pp. 22-26). Its first known occurrence in the Vaiśeṣika system is in the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha by Praśastapāda, the very text that is our source for the Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony. So we will see God playing a role in this cosmogony account. An attentive reading will show that God can be omitted from this account without any loss of coherence in the account. Cosmogony can occur on the basis of adṛṣṭa alone, the automatically acting “unseen” force produced by karma, without any help from God.

Indeed, the great Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya summarizes the very same Vaiśeṣika account of cosmogony, but without God, in his Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya (2.2.11 to 2.2.17). In fact, one of the main reasons given by Śaṅkarācārya for refuting the Vaiśeṣika account of ultimate atoms as the cause of the world is that it contradicts the Vedic scriptures that teach God as the cause of the world (īśvara-kāraṇa-śruti-viruddhatvāt). In the early Vaiśeṣika account summarized by Śaṅkarācārya, the characteristic Vaiśeṣika teaching of adṛṣṭa is alone the unseen force that impels the ultimate atoms, and this had to be refuted by Śaṅkarācārya who believed in a conscious, thinking God as the cause of the world. Later Vaiśeṣika agreed with Śaṅkarācārya on God as the cause of the world, but not the early Vaiśeṣika text that Śaṅkarācārya drew upon. According to two sub-commentaries on Śaṅkarācārya’s text (the Prakaṭārtha-vivaraṇa by Anubhūtisvarūpa and the Ratna-prabhā by Govindānanda), Śaṅkarācārya drew his Vaiśeṣika account from the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, one of the now lost early Vaiśeṣika commentaries.4 From the above we may conclude that: (1) the early Vaiśeṣika system did include cosmogony; and (2) the early Vaiśeṣika cosmogony did not include God.

The Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account as we now have it, including God, here follows. The Padārtha-dharma-sagraha that it comes from is of unknown date, but is estimated to be from around the middle of the first millennium C.E. This text was translated into English by Gaṅgānātha Jhā and published serially, 1903-1915, and his translation of its cosmogony account is given here with slight modifications.5 Gaṅgānātha Jhā, 1871-1941, was one of the foremost translators of Sanskrit darśana texts into English, and his translations of this difficult material are widely respected. I fully share this respect for them. He worked at a time when translations were not as literal as has now become expected. I have made no attempt to modify this aspect of his translation. He had to pioneer the translation choices for many technical terms. It is here that I have made my few modifications. These are: (1) changing his translation of mahā-bhūta from “ultimate Material Substances” that he used in some places, or “gross elements” that he used in other places, to the more literal “great elements”; (2) changing his translation of au in its first occurrence from “material atom” to just “atom,” as he also used thereafter; (3) changing his translation of paramāṇu (parama aṇu) from just “atom” to “ultimate atom” (he did not distinguish au from paramāṇu, but translated them both as “atom”—they are usually used synonymously in the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika texts). I have also changed his frequent capitalization of common nouns, such as Earth, Water, Fire and Air, to lower case. Lastly, I have inserted a number of Sanskrit terms in brackets, and have added one footnoted clarification in brackets.

The Sanskrit text is given from the 1895 edition of the Praśastapāda-bhāṣya prepared by Vindhyeśvarīprasāda Dvivedin, pp. 48-49, which is the one used by Gaṅgānātha Jhā for his 1903-1915 translation. I have compared it with the 1971 edition by Jitendra S. Jetly (Kiraṇāvalī, pp. 60-64), with the 1983-1984 edition by Gaurinath Sastri (Vyomavatī, vol. 1, pp. 95-96), and with the 1991 edition by J. S. Jetly and Vasant G. Parikh (Nyāyakandalī, pp. 134-139). The few variant readings do not change the meaning, and I have therefore not cited them.


ihedānīṃ caturṇāṃ mahā-bhūtānāṃ sṛṣṭi-saṃhāra-vidhir ucyate |

“We are now going to describe the process of the creation and destruction of the four great elements [mahā-bhūta].”

brāhmeṇa mānena varṣa-śatānte vartamānasya brahmaṇo ‘pavarga-kāle saṃsāra-khinnānāṃ sarva-prāṇināṃ niśi viśrāmārthaṃ sakala-bhuvana-pater maheśvarasya saṃjihīrṣā-sama-kālaṃ śarīrendriya-mahābhūtopanibandhakānāṃ sarvātmagatānām adṛṣṭānāṃ vṛtti-nirodhe sati maheśvarecchātmāṇu-saṃyogaja-karmabhyaḥ śarīrendriya-kāraṇāṇu-vibhāgebhyas tat-saṃyoga-nivṛttau teṣām ā-paramāṇv-anto vināśaḥ |

“When a hundred years, by the measure of Brahmā are at an end, there comes the time for the deliverance of the Brahmā existing at that time; and then, for the sake of the resting at night, of all living beings wearied by their ‘wanderings,’ there arises in the mind of the Supreme Lord [maheśvara], the Ruler of all worlds, a desire to reabsorb (all creation); and simultaneously with this desire, there comes about a cessation of the operations of the unseen potential tendencies [adṛṣṭa] of all souls [ātman] that are the causes of their bodies, sense-organs and great elements [mahā-bhūta]. Then out of the Supreme Lord’s desire [icchā] and from the conjunction [sayoga] of the souls [ātman] and the atoms [au], there come about certain disruptions [vibhāga, “disjunction”] of the atoms constituting the bodies and sense-organs. These disruptions destroy the combinations [sayoga, “conjunction”] of those atoms; and this brings about the destruction of all things [bodies and sense-organs]6 down to the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu].”

tathā pṛthivy-udaka-jvalana-pavanānām api mahā-bhūtānām anenaiva krameṇottarasminn uttarasmin sati pūrvasya pūrvasya vināśaḥ |

“Then there comes about a successive destruction or reabsorption of the great elements [mahā-bhūta], earth, water, fire, and air, one after the other.”

tataḥ pravibhaktāḥ paramāṇavo ‘vatiṣṭhante dharmādharma-saṃskārānuviddhā ātmānas tāvantam eva kālam |

“After this, the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] remain by themselves in their isolated [pravibhakta] condition; and simultaneously with these there remain the souls [ātman] permeated with the potencies [saṃskāra] of their past virtues [dharma] and vices [adharma].”

tataḥ punaḥ prāṇināṃ bhoga-bhūtaye maheśvara-sisṛkṣānantaraṃ sarvātmagata-vṛtti-labdhādṛṣṭāpekṣebhyas tat-saṃyogebhyaḥ pavana-paramāṇuṣu karmotpattau teṣāṃ paras-para-saṃyogebhyo dvyaṇukādi-prakrameṇa mahān vāyuḥ samutpanno nabhasi dodhūyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“Then again, for the sake of the experiences to be gained by living beings, there arising in the mind of the Supreme Lord a desire for creation, there are produced, in the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] of air, certain actions or motions [karma], due to their conjunctions [sayoga] under the influence of the unseen potential tendencies [adṛṣṭa] that begin to operate in all souls. These motions bringing about the mutual contact [sayoga] of the air ultimate atoms, there appears, through the dyad [dvyauka], triad, etc., finally the ‘great air,’ [mahān vāyu, i.e., mahā-vāyu] which exists vibrating in the sky.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva vāyāv āpyebhyaḥ paramāṇubhyas tenaiva krameṇa mahān salila-nidhir utpannaḥ poplūyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“After this, in this great air, there appears, in the same order, out of the ultimate atoms of water, the great reservoir [nidhi] of water, which remains there surging.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva pārthivebhyaḥ paramāṇubhyo mahā-pṛthivī saṃhatāvatiṣṭhate |

“In this reservoir of water, there appears, out of the earth ultimate atoms, the great earth which rests there in its solid form.”

tad-anantaraṃ tasminn eva mahodadhau taijasebhyo ‘ṇubhyo dvyaṇukādi-prakrameṇotpanno mahāṃs tejo-rāśiḥ kena-cid anabhibhūtatvād dedīpyamānas tiṣṭhati |

“Then, in the same water reservoir, there appears, in the same order, out of the fire atoms, the great mass of fire; and not being suppressed by anything else, it stands shining radiantly.”

evaṃ samutpanneṣu caturṣu mahā-bhūteṣu maheśvarasyābhidhyāna-mātrāt taijasebhyo ‘ṇubhyaḥ pārthiva-paramāṇu-sahitebhyo mahad aṇḍam ārabhyate | tasmiṃś catur-vadana-kamalaṃ sarva-loka-pitāmahaṃ brahmāṇaṃ sakala-bhuvana-sahitam utpādya prajā-sarge viniyuṅkte | sa ca maheśvareṇa viniyukto brahmātiśaya-jñāna-vairāgyaiśvarya-sampannaḥ prāṇināṃ karma-vipākaṃ viditvā karmānurūpa-jñāna-bhogāyuṣaḥ sutān prajāpatīn mānasān manu-deva-rṣi-pitṛ-gaṇān mukha-bāhūru-pādataś caturo varṇān anyāni coccāvacāni bhūtāni ca sṛṣṭvāśayānurūpair dharma-jñāna-vairāgyaiśvaryaiḥ saṃyojayatīti ||

“The four great elements having thus been brought into existence, there is produced, from the mere thought (mental picturing) [abhidhyāna] of the Supreme Lord, the great egg, from out of the fire atoms mixed up with the ultimate atoms of earth; and in this egg having produced all the worlds and the Four-faced Brahmā, the Grand-father of all creatures, the Supreme Lord assigns to him the duty of producing the various creatures. Being thus engaged by the Supreme Lord, Brahmā, endowed with extreme degrees of knowledge, dispassion and power, having recognised the ripeness for fruition of the karmic tendencies of the living beings, creates, out of his mind, his sons, the Prajāpatis, as also the Manus and the several groups of the gods, ṛshis, and pitṛs,—and out of his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet, the four castes, and the other living beings of all grades high and low,—all these having their knowledge and experience ordained in accordance with their previous deeds; and then he connects them with virtue, knowledge, dispassion, and powers, according to their respective impressional potencies [āśaya].”


As we see in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given by Praśastapāda, the dissolution of the great elements follows the expected sequence: First earth dissolves, then water dissolves, then fire dissolves, and then air dissolves. The manifestation of the great elements, however, does not follow the expected sequence: First comes air, as expected. But then comes water, not fire. After water comes earth. Then comes fire. This is quite unusual. Then from fire together with earth comes the great egg, the cosmic egg in which all the worlds and all their creatures appear. Most unusual, though, is that the ultimate atoms remain after the dissolution of the cosmos:

“After this, the ultimate atoms [paramāṇu] remain by themselves in their isolated [pravibhakta] condition; . . .” When it says that the ultimate atoms remain in their “isolated” condition, this means disjoined or dissociated. That is, these ultimate atoms are no longer conjoined in pairs to produce dyads, nor are these dyads conjoined to produce triads. It is only the triads that produce the actual manifested elements: earth, water, fire, and air. So what is the nature of the ultimate atoms? The ultimate atoms are regularly described in the texts with two adjectives. They are eternal (nitya), so they can never be destroyed, even when the cosmos is dissolved; and they are without parts (niravayava). As a corollary to being without parts, they are described as having no magnitude (mahattva), in the sense of size. This differentiates them from the atoms or atomic particles known in modern science. As explained by Jagadisha Chandra Chatterji (The Hindu Realism, being An Introduction to the Metaphysics of the Nyâya-Vaisheṣhika System of Philosophy, 1912):

“Paramāṇus have been translated as atoms, which is most misleading. For atoms as conceived by Western chemistry are things with some magnitude, while Paramāṇus are absolutely without any magnitude whatever and non-spatial.” (p. 19).

“For there is no reason to suppose that the ultimate parts must be things of some magnitude, however minute—of some length, breadth and thickness. . . . On the contrary, if there is any violation of principles, and arbitrariness, even inconsistency, anywhere, it is to be found, not in the idea of Paramāṇus, but in the view which regards the ultimate constituents of the sensible and discrete things as particles with magnitude. Such particles are a violation of a principle, inasmuch as they, being of limited magnitude, are yet considered unbreakable into simple parts; while all other sensible things having also limited magnitude are recognised as produced and capable of being broken up into simpler components. . . . Finally, if the ultimate constituents of sensible things were composed of solid, hard and extended particles with magnitude, however small, then Âkâsha or Ether could not really be all-pervading as we shall see it must be. For all these reasons, we must conclude that the ultimate factors of the discrete things of sense-perception are of the measure of pure points, without any magnitude whatever, that is, without any length, breadth or thickness. They are in other words Paramāṇus. As they are without any magnitude whatever, the Paramāṇus, as such, can never be perceived by the senses. They are, therefore, super-sensible or transcendental (Atîndriya). They are super-sensible, not in the sense that, while they are too small to be perceived by the unassisted senses, or with the aid of any instruments which have been so far invented, they could be perceived by the senses if we had, let us say, ideally perfect instruments to aid us in our sense-observation. They are super-sensible, rather, in the sense, that they can never be perceived by the senses, not even with the aid of the most perfect instruments imaginable. That is to say, they lie altogether beyond the range of the senses and are transcendental.” (pp. 31-33).

“The Paramāṇus are like pure points.” (p. 47).

In other words, the ultimate atoms taught in Vaiśeṣika are apparently not atoms of physical matter. When we are obliged to use terms such as “atoms” and “matter,” we must recognize that they may mean one thing in physics, and another thing in metaphysics. Vaiśeṣika, with its nine classes of ultimate realities (dravya, “substance”) that along with ultimate atoms include selves (ātman) and minds (manas),7 is essentially metaphysics. Its ultimate atoms, being altogether beyond the range of the senses (atīndriya), are said to be accessible only to the mind (Chatterji, op. cit., pp. 33, 159). So when modern writers call them indivisible, based on being without parts (niravayava), this does not mean that they are units of physical matter so tiny that they can no longer be divided. As pointed out by Chatterji (op. cit., p. 24):

“Unlike many, if not most, schools of Realism in the West, there is no Hindu system of realistic thought, which has ever held that the essential basis of the sensible world is a something or somethings which must have magnitude and extension. . . . it is possible to be a thorough-going realist and yet maintain, as the Hindu Realists of all shades have always maintained, that the ultimate constituents of sensible things are indeed real, self-subsisting, and independent of all percipients, but they are not solid, hard particles with any magnitude, however small.”

The Vaiśeṣika ultimate atoms, then, are like metaphysical or mathematical points. Indeed, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika explanation of how things with no magnitude can produce things with some magnitude, given by Chatterji (op. cit., pp. 29-30), is based on geometry. Two separate points, having no magnitude and being imperceptible, can result in a geometrical line, still remaining imperceptible. Three or more lines, here forming a prism shape rather than a triangle, can result in something that is perceptible. Thus can something without magnitude produce something with magnitude. The points correspond to the Vaiśeṣika ultimate atoms (paramāṇu), two of which form a dyad. The lines correspond to the dyads (dvyauka), three or more of which form a triad. The prism shape corresponds to the triads (tryauka or trasareu), which form the great elements: earth, water, fire, and air.

The Theosophical explanation of how things with no magnitude can produce things with some magnitude pertains to its teaching of the various planes of existence. As evolution proceeds, things existing on higher planes become more dense and manifest on lower planes. Thus, the ultimate atoms referred to in Theosophy exist on higher planes and proliferate onto lower planes, and this is how manifestation occurs. This explanation fits in with the Hindu metaphysical systems, and may well be what is meant by the Vaiśeṣika teaching. It is noteworthy that the ultimate atoms are specifically referred to in Theosophy as “mathematical points,” and we will return to this below.

We also see in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account that motion (karma, “action”),8 which figures so prominently in the Dzyan Commentary’s statement about the slumbering atoms, is brought in only for the re-manifestation of the cosmos. Does motion exist during dissolution (pralaya), as it does in the Theosophical Mahatma Morya’s description given in the Cosmological Notes? Once again, we may be limited by what is preserved in the Vaiśeṣika sources that are still extant. Neither the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras nor the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha speak of this. However, a later Nyāya treatise by Udayana does speak of this, the Nyāya-kusumāñjali. Rather ironically, it is this treatise that laid out proofs for the existence of God, and firmly established the joint Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system as staunch proponents of the God idea from that time forward. According to a sub-commentary by Padmanābha-miśra on another work by Udayana (the Kiraṇāvalī commentary on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha), Udayana still had access to the Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya, the same now lost early Vaiśeṣika commentary that was apparently used by the Advaita Vedānta teacher Śaṅkarācārya.9 As noted above, the earlier Vaiśeṣika that Śaṅkarācārya refutes is not the later theistic Vaiśeṣika, as is taught by Udayana. Yet Udayana does preserve in his Nyāya-kusumāñjali the otherwise unknown Vaiśeṣika teaching of the motion of the ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya), possibly from the lost Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya.

Udayana in his Nyāya-kusumāñjali predictably brings in God in his brief statement regarding the motion of the ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya). Although the Theosophical Mahatmas do not accept the existence of God (see Mahatma letter #10), students of Theosophy will be pleasantly surprised by Udayana’s statement. For Udayana likens this motion during pralaya to the breathing of God, very much like The Secret Doctrine’s poetic description of the absolute abstract motion that exists even during pralaya as the “Great Breath” (vol. 1, p. 14). The Book of Dzyan speaks of this (Stanza 2, verse 2): “. . . Where was silence? Where the ears to sense it? No, there was neither silence nor sound; naught save ceaseless, eternal breath, which knows itself not.” So if we look at the one existing complete English translation of the Nyāya-kusumāñjali, students of Theosophy will be happy to read, regarding the motion that exists during pralaya: “This motion is often described as God’s inhalation and exhalation.”10 If we look at the Sanskrit, however, we find that this “translation” is an embellished paraphrase, which the unsuspecting reader who must rely on these so-called translations would never know. Udayana says only that this motion is “breathed out by God,” īśvara-niḥśvasita, nothing more. This is nonetheless enough to bring in the image of the breath in relation to the motion that exists during pralaya.

Udayana’s statement is given below, followed by my fairly literal translation. I have been much helped in this by an accurate translation of the first two chapters of the Nyāyakusumāñjali made by C. Kunhan Raja, alias Swami Ravi Tirtha.11 I have made a more literal translation of this statement only because we need to know what Udayana says about this motion as precisely as possible. Udayana’s Nyāya-kusumāñjali is a very terse work that presupposes full familiarity with the philosophical ideas prevalent among the learned in his time. Much of what Udayana took for granted in his readers is spelled out in the very helpful commentary on it by Varadarāja, the Kusumāñjali-Bodhanī, which has also been of much use to me. Udayana is giving the reason for rejecting the opponent’s statement that the Nyāya position cannot be correct, so it is actually one long “because” sentence. I have omitted the “because,” coming from the ablative ending on the final word, anuvṛtteḥ, and have broken his one sentence into two sentences at the suffix –vat, “like,” on the word anuvṛtti, “continuity,” in its first occurrence. Three technical terms, requiring explanation, have been given in parentheses in the translation. Two are explained below, and the third, pracaya, in a note.12 Udayana follows this statement by answering the question of how long pralaya lasts. The Sanskrit text is given from the 1957 edition of the Nyāyakusumāñjali published in the Kashi Sanskrit Series, no. 30, pp. 304-305.

śarīra-saṃkṣobha-śrama-janita-nidrāṇāṃ prāṇinām āyuḥ-paripāka-krama-sampādanaika-prayojana-śvāsa-santānā’nuvṛttivan mahābhūta-saṃplava-saṃkṣobha-labdha-saṃskārāṇāṃ paramāṇūnāṃ manda-tara-tamā”di-bhāvena kālāvacchedaika-prayojanasya pracayākhya-saṃyoga-paryantasya karma-santānasyeśvara-niḥśvasitasyā’nuvṛtteḥ |

“For living beings in whom sleep has arisen from fatigue and the impact (saṃkṣobha) on the body, the continuity of the series of breaths has the sole purpose of accomplishing the stages of the maturing of life. Like this, for the ultimate atoms in which impulses (saṃskāra) have been acquired from the impact of the disintegration of the great elements, the continuity of the series of motions breathed out by God has the sole purpose of demarcating time, as being slow, slower, slowest, etc., culminating in the conjunction called grouping (pracaya).”

Just as God can be omitted from the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given by Praśastapāda without any loss of coherence, so God can be omitted from the account of the motion of ultimate atoms during dissolution (pralaya) given by Udayana without any loss of coherence. The Vaiśeṣika teaching of adṛṣṭa, the automatically acting “unseen” force produced by karma, is quite enough to explain how cosmogony occurs, without any need for God. Here, too, God is not necessary for the motion of the ultimate atoms during pralaya, which motion is explained as being due to their saṃskāras. The saṃskāras are karmic “imprints” or “impressions” that become “conditioning forces” (as Bhikkhu Dhammajoti well translates this word in Buddhist texts), leading to “tendencies” (as Anantalal Thakur translates it in Vaiśeṣika texts). Ganganatha Jha translated this word as “potencies” in the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony account given above. I have used “impulses” here. The ultimate atoms acquire these saṃskāras from the saṃkṣobha, “impact,” that occurs when the great elements disintegrate into their component ultimate atoms at the time of the dissolution of the cosmos. About this, Umesha Mishra explains that “before an object is destroyed a kind of shock (saṅkṣobha) is given to that object and then the object is destroyed” (Conception of Matter according to Nyāya-Vaiçeṣika, 1936, p. 197). Similarly, Sadananda Bhaduri says about this: “It is only as the result of a violent shaking or impact that a body is dissolved” (Studies in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika Metaphysics, 1946, p. 147). The term saṃkṣobha is glossed in the Kusumāñjali-Bodhanī commentary by Varadarāja as abhighāta, which means “striking, impact.” So due to this impact (saṃkṣobha) at the time of the disintegration of the great elements, the ultimate atoms acquire saṃskāras, “impulses,” which result in a continuous series of motions that last throughout the time of the dissolution (pralaya) of the cosmos. The idea that God breathed out these motions is not necessary to the Vaiśeṣika system.

In the Theosophical system, the motion that is symbolically called the “Great Breath” is not the breath of God, but rather is the breath of the one existence, which is the one element, also called space. Blavatsky writes: “Its one absolute attribute, which is ITSELF, eternal, ceaseless Motion, is called in esoteric parlance the ‘Great Breath,’ which is the perpetual motion of the universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present SPACE” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 2). She explains further (vol. 1, p. 55): “The ‘Breath’ of the One Existence is used in its application only to the spiritual aspect of Cosmogony by Archaic esotericism; otherwise, it is replaced by its equivalent in the material plane—Motion. The One Eternal Element, or element-containing Vehicle, is Space, dimensionless in every sense; co-existent with which are—endless duration, primordial (hence indestructible) matter, and motion—absolute ‘perpetual motion’ which is the ‘breath’ of the ‘One’ Element. This breath, as seen, can never cease, not even during the Pralayic eternities.”

According to the Theosophical teachings, the breath of the one element is its life. The one existence may therefore be called the one element or the one life, and is equivalent to living matter or living substance. The breath of the one element is the same as the perpetual motion of matter, and this motion is its inherent life. The Mahatma K.H. makes this clear (Mahatma letter #10): “When we speak of our One Life we also say that it penetrates, nay is the essence of every atom of matter; and that therefore it not only has correspondence with matter but has all its properties likewise, etc.—hence is material, is matter itself. . . . Rejecting with contempt the theistic theory we reject as much the automaton theory, teaching that states of consciousness are produced by the marshalling of the molecules of the brain; . . . we believe in . . . the pulsations of inert matter—its life. . . . In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, . . .”

It follows that every atom is alive, and each atom is a life. Blavatsky explains: “The Second idea to hold fast to is that THERE IS NO DEAD MATTER. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise since every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore there is no such thing as ‘spaces’ of Ether, or Akasha, or call it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport themselves like trout in water. That’s the common idea. The true idea shows every atom of substance no matter of what plane to be in itself a LIFE.”13

This life remains, even when the cosmos goes out of manifestation, and it is this that keeps the eternal ultimate atoms in motion during pralaya, like in sleep. This is because, as the Mahatma Morya said in the “Cosmological Notes,” quoted above, motion is the imperishable life of matter. At that time there is only “space pervaded by atoms in motion. Everything else passes away for the time, but matter which these ultimate atoms represent . . . is eternal and indestructible, . . .” (p. 384). The remainder of this quotation had been re-stated earlier in the “Cosmological Notes”: “Motion . . . is the imperishable life (conscious or unconscious as the case may be) of matter, even during the pralaya, or night of mind. When Chyang or omniscience, and Chyang-mi-shi-khon—ignorance, both sleep, this latent unconscious life still maintains the matter it animates in sleepless unceasing motion.” (p. 377).

It is here that the Vaiśeṣika teachings as we now have them differ from the Theosophical teachings. Vaiśeṣika does not teach that the ultimate atoms are alive; their motion is therefore not inherent in them. In Theosophy, motion is the inherent life of the ultimate atoms. This difference between the two teachings is, of course, hardly surprising. The distinctive teaching of eternal ultimate atoms has defined the Vaiśeṣika system to such an extent that Vaiśeṣika has come to be known as a system of atomism. By contrast, Theosophy is not at all known as a system of atomism, or even as teaching atomism, because of its teaching of the one existence. Indeed, Theosophy has the maxim: “It is on the doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism is built.” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 520). Vaiśeṣika, on the other hand, has been known in the West for teaching eternal ultimate atoms that are indivisible, although the Sanskrit term for this in fact means “without parts” (niravayava) rather than “indivisible.” Just as we had to determine what kind of atoms are without parts in Vaiśeṣika, so we must determine what kind of atoms are infinitely divisible in Theosophy, along with what kind of matter is illusive. For we have just been reading about matter that is eternal and atoms that are eternal.

The Theosophical teaching on the eternal ultimate atoms was considerably clarified in 2010, with the publication of the lost “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge,” discovered in 1995 by Daniel Caldwell.14 It was clarified thanks to Blavatsky being persistently questioned about the atoms that she spoke of too briefly in The Secret Doctrine. In her replies, Blavatsky called the atoms taught in Theosophy “mathematical points” more than a dozen times, just like Chatterji called the atoms taught in Vaiśeṣika “pure points.” Just like the Mahatma Morya surprisingly spoke of the seventh or highest principle as being molecular, i.e., atomic, Blavatsky several times defined the atom as the seventh principle of a molecule, existing on the seventh or highest plane. This true atom, then, is not physical, not the atom of modern science, as she said many times. Each molecule, appearing as a single atom, is composed of an infinity of finer molecules; and these comprise the six lower principles of the true atom, being the infinitely divisible manifested atoms. Some of these statements had appeared already in the Transactions that were published in 1890 and 1891. But in the newly published Transactions there are more of these statements, leading to greater clarification of the Theosophical teaching on the eternal ultimate atoms that remain even during pralaya. It will be worthwhile to quote some of these statements.

The following quotations, when they occur in both the 1890-1891 and 2010 versions, are given from the earlier published Transactions, as reprinted in the Blavatsky Collected Writings, volume 10. Blavatsky had a chance to edit the earlier version. For these quotations, references to the 2010 unedited and often differing version are also included in parentheses.

“Thus the Egg, on whatever plane you speak of, means the ever-existing undifferentiated matter which strictly is not matter at all, but, as we call it, the Atoms. Matter is destructible in form while the Atoms are absolutely indestructible, being the quintessence of Substances. And here, I mean by ‘atoms’ the primordial divine Units, not the ‘atoms’ of modern Science.” (p. 353; cp. 2010 ed., p. 137)

“Question. Is the Radiant Essence, Milky Way, or world-stuff, resolvable into atoms or is it non-atomic?
Answer. In its precosmic state it is of course non-atomic if by atoms you mean molecules; for the hypothetical atom, a mere mathematical point, is not material or application [applicable?] to matter, nor even to substance. The real atom does not exist on the material plane. The definition of a point as having position, must not, in Occultism, be taken in the ordinary sense of location; as the real atom is beyond space and time. The word molecular is really applicable to our globe and its plane, only: once inside of it, even on the other globes of our planetary chain, matter is in quite another condition, and non-molecular. The atom is in its eternal state invisible even to the eye of an Archangel; and becomes visible to the latter only periodically, during the life cycle. The particle, or molecule, is not, but exists periodically, and is therefore regarded as an illusion.” (p. 370; cp. 2010 ed., pp. 210-211)

“An atom is simply a mathematical point with regard to matter. It is what we call in occultism a mathematical point.” (2010 ed., p. 210)

“Question. But what is an atom, in fact?
Answer. An atom may be compared to (and is for the Occultist) the seventh principle of a body or rather of a molecule. The physical or chemical molecule is composed of an infinity of finer molecules and these in their turn of innumerable and still finer molecules. Take for instance a molecule of iron and so resolve it that it becomes non-molecular; it is then, at once transformed into one of its seven principles, viz., its astral body; the seventh of these is the atom. The analogy between a molecule of iron, before it is broken up, and this same molecule after resolution, is the same as that between a physical body before and after death. The principles remain minus the body. Of course this is occult alchemy, not modern chemistry.” (pp. 370-371; cp. 2010 ed., pp. 211-213)

“Brahmâ is called an atom, because we have to imagine it as a mathematical point, which, however, can be extended into absoluteness. Nota bene, it is the divine germ and not the atom of the chemists.” (p. 385; cp. 2010 ed., p. 277)

“It is the infinitesimally small and totallic Brahmā. It may be the unknown limited quantity, a latent atom during Pralaya, active during the life cycles, but one which has neither circumference or plane, only limitless expansion.” (2010 ed., p. 277)

Mr. A. Keightley: Question 6. Are the atoms—in the occult sense of the term—eternal and indestructible, like the Monads of Leibniz, or are they dissolved during Pralaya?
Mme. Blavatsky: Now look at this question, if you please. This proves that the atoms are in your conceptions somethings, when there is no such thing in this world as atoms, except as mathematical points, as I say. The atoms, whether representing the Monads of Leibniz or the eternal and indestructible mathematical points of substance which our occult doctrine teaches, can neither be dissolved during Pralaya nor reform during Manvantara. The atoms do not exist as appreciable quantities of matter on any plane. They are mathematical points of unknown quantity here. And whatever they are or may be on the seventh plane, each is and must be logically an absolute universe in itself, reflecting other universes and yet it is not matter and it is not spirit. . . . The atom is and is not. The atom is the mathematical point, the potentiality in space; and there is not, I suppose, a space in this world that is not an atom.” (2010 ed., p. 347-348)

“Atoms confined to our world system are not what they are in space, or mathematical points. These latter are certainly metaphysical abstractions, and can only be considered in such terms; but what we know as atoms on this plane are gradations of substance, very attenuated. This will be easily understood by those who think over the occult axiom which tells us that spirit is matter, and matter spirit, and both one.” (2010 ed., p. 366)

Mr. B. Keightley: That question of atoms is consistently cropping up in The Secret Doctrine.
Mme. Blavatsky:
It does. And I had the honor of telling you what I meant by atoms, that I used them in that sense of cosmogenesis. I said they were geometrical and mathematical points.” (2010 ed., pp. 398-399)


Vaiśeṣika is an ancient system, and only remnants of its teachings have been preserved. The teaching on ultimate atoms is given only very briefly in its primary text, the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras (4.1.1-7, Thakur edition).15 More is given in the primary text of its sister system, the Nyāya-sūtras (4.2.16-25). Some more was preserved in the Padārtha-dharma-saṃgraha by Praśastapāda, including an account of cosmogony. In what has been preserved in this compendium we have the unusual teaching that the eternal ultimate atoms remain in existence even when the cosmos goes out of manifestation. This teaching is also found in Theosophy. It is found elsewhere only in the Buddhist Kālacakra system. Even though Jainism also teaches eternal ultimate atoms, according to Jainism the cosmos never goes out of manifestation. The ultimate atoms taught in early Buddhism are not eternal, so they do not remain during the dissolution of the cosmos. The teaching that eternal ultimate atoms remain during pralaya has been little studied in Vaiśeṣika, and it has been little studied in Theosophy. Yet it is an essential part of the Vaiśeṣika cosmogony, necessary for the ultimate atoms to be eternal, and it is an essential part of the cosmogony given in the Book of Dzyan. Blavatsky summarizes what stanza 3 of the Book of Dzyan teaches, at the same time indicating how the one existence and the many eternal ultimate atoms or mathematical points need not be contradictory (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 21):

“Stanza III. describes the Re-awakening of the Universe to life after Pralaya. It depicts the emergence of the ‘Monads’ from their state of absorption within the ONE; the earliest and highest stage in the formation of ‘Worlds,’ the term Monad being one which may apply equally to the vastest Solar System or the tiniest atom.”

This stanza of the Book of Dzyan concludes with the following verse:

“Then Svabhāva sends Fohat to harden the atoms. Each is a part of the web. Reflecting the ‘Self-Existent Lord’ like a mirror, each becomes in turn a world.”



1. The phrase “empty ultimate atom” translates the original Sanskrit śūnya-paramāṇu. Its Tibetan translation is stong pa rdul phra rab. This Tibetan term, or a close variant, was used by the Dalai Lama in his dialogues and translated as “space particle” or “empty particle” in his books: Consciousness at the Crossroads, 1999, pp. 49, 51; The New Physics and Cosmology, 2004, pp. 85, 87-88, 94, 96, 183, 209; and The Universe in a Single Atom, 2005, pp. 85-90.

2. See: “The Problems of the Vaiśeṣika system and the lost Vaiśeṣika literature,” by Anantalal Thakur, pp. 9-17 in his “Introduction” to Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, edited by Muni Jambuvijayaji, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1961, posted here with the Sanskrit texts. We do not know if the Vaiśeṣika-Kaṭandī is the Ātreya-bhāṣya.

3. These two are: Vaiśeṣikadarśana of Kaṇāda, with an Anonymous Commentary, edited by Anantalal Thakur, Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1957; and Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, edited by Muni Jambuvijayaji, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1961.

4. See: “Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya,” by S. Kuppuswami Sastri, Journal of Oriental Research, Madras, vol. 3, 1929, pp. 1-5, attached.

5. Padārthadharmasangraha of Praçastapāda, with the Nyāyakandalī of Çrīdhara, translated by Ganganatha Jha, serialized in The Pandit, 1903-1915; reprint, Benares, 1916; photographic reprint as: Padārthadharmasagraha of Praśastapāda, with the Nyāyakandalī of Śrīdhara, translated by Gaṅgānātha Jhā, Varanasi, 1982, pp. 108-111.

6. Gaṅgānātha Jhā’s “of all things” translates the pronoun teṣām, “of these/those,” where he has supplied the unstated “all things” as the referent for the pronoun. There are three main commentaries on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha. All three commentaries supply the “bodies and sense-organs” as the referent for the pronoun: teṣāṃ śarīrendriyānām (Vyomavatī by Vyomaśiva, edited by Gaurinath Sastri, 1983, p. 97, line 27; Nyāyakandalī by Śrīdhara, edited by Vindhyeśvarīprasāda Dvivedin, 1895, p. 51, line 13; edited by J. S. Jetly and Vasant G. Parikh, 1991, p. 136, line 12; Kiraṇāvalī by Udayana, edited by Narendra Chandra Vedantatirtha (fasc. 4), 1956, p. 315, line 2; edited by Jitendra S. Jetly, 1971, p. 62, line 10). They are here listed in chronological order: Vyomavatī, Nyāyakandalī, and Kiraṇāvalī.

7. The nine classes of ultimate realities, called dravya, which is usually translated as “substances,” are: (1-4) the ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) of earth, water, fire, and air; (5) ākāśa, which in Vaiśeṣika is not the fifth element, but rather is space as the medium in which things exist; (6) kāla, time; (7) dik, literally “direction,” as in north and south, so refers to space as the directions of space, and has sometimes been translated as relative position; (8) ātman, selves or souls (9) manas, minds.

8. The word for motion used in Vaiśeṣika is karma, “action,” as may be seen, for example, in its usage in Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 1.1.6 (or 1.1.7 in earlier editions), translated by Anantalal Thakur as: “Throwing upwards, throwing downwards, contracting, expanding and moving are the (five) actions.” (See note 15 below for his Sanskrit edition and translation.) Therefore many writers on Vaiśeṣika translate karma as “motion.”

9. Udayana in his Kiraṇāvalī commentary on the Padārtha-dharma-sagraha refers to the very extensive (ativistara) commentary on the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras that he apparently had access to (Kiraṇāvalī, ed. Śiva Chandra Sārvvabhouma, fasc. 1-3, Bibliotheca Indica, work no. 200, Calcutta, 1911-1912, p. 34). Padmanābha-miśra in his Kiraṇāvalī-Bhāskara sub-commentary says that this very extensive commentary was written by Rāvaṇa (ed. Gopi Nath Kaviraj, Benares, 1920, p. 12: rāvaṇa-praṇīta); i.e., it is the lost Rāvaṇa-bhāṣya. (Reference: Anantalal Thakur, “Introduction” to Vaiśeṣikasūtra of Kaṇāda, with the Commentary of Candrānanda, p. 13, repeated in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, p. 166.)

10. Nyāyakusumāñjali of Udayanācārya, translated by N. S. Dravid, Vol. 1, New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1996, p. 202. The full statement in this translation, actually an embellished paraphrase, is: “(The proper explanation of the re-emergence of the creative process is this): During sleep which is induced by fatigue in the living body the process of exhalation and inhalation—whose sole object is the gradual dissipation of the span of life of the body—goes on (as long as the body is destined to live). Likewise the motion of the atoms (which are the ultimate constituents of the universe) generated by the impact of the disintegrating process on the four major elements of the universe, has as its sole object the determination of the duration of annihilation. The atomic motion taking place during annihilation is of the nonproductive kind and it increases or decreases accordingly as the annihilation-process is near or far from its end. This motion is often described as God’s inhalation and exhalation.”
The translation of the Kusumāñjali made by E. B. Cowell and published in 1864 is of Udayana’s verses only, along with a commentary by Hari Dasa Bhattacharya. It does not include Udayana’s extensive prose portions that make up most of his book.

11. The Nyāyakusumāñjali of Udayanācārya, translated by Swami Ravi Tirtha, Vol. 1, Books 1 and 2, Adyar Library, 1946, pp. 99-100, paragraph 176. The full statement in this more accurate translation is: “If it be so said, it is not so; for there is continuity for the breathing of God in the form of a succession of activity of ultimate atoms, of the nature of lesser and still lesser intensity, which end with the contact designated pracaya (i.e. mere coming together without creating volume) and whose sole purpose is to demarcate time, (of ultimate atoms) which have obtained a residue from the agitation of the break up of the great elements (i.e., the five elements), (just) like the continuity of the succession of breaths, whose sole purpose is to secure the process of the fruition of life for the living beings who have obtained sleep derived from the fatigue of some agitation of the body.”
This book is quite rare, so I have scanned it and posted it here with the Sanskrit texts. Swami Ravi Tirtha is a pseudonym for C. Kunhan Raja, as noted by George Chemparathy (An Indian Rational Theology: Introduction to Udayana’s Nyāyakusumāñjali, 1972, p. 190).

12. The term pracaya, “grouping,” is defined by Candrānanda in his commentary on Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 7.1.16 as a “loose conjunction”: praśithilaḥ saṃyogaḥ pracayaḥ. The same gloss is given by Praśastapāda in his Padārtha-dharma-sagraha, where it is further explained: 1895 edition (Praśastapāda-bhāṣya), pp. 130 ff.; 1971 edition with Kiraṇāvalī commentary, pp. 136 ff.; 1983-1984 edition with Vyomavatī commentary, vol. 2, pp. 50 ff.; 1991 edition with Nyāyakandalī commentary, pp. 327 ff.; G. Jha translation, pp. 284 ff.

13. “The ‘Secret Doctrine’ and Its Study” (notes of personal teachings given by H. P. Blavatsky to Robert Bowen), cited from An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, 1994, p. 4.

14. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions, by H. P. Blavatsky, transcribed and edited by Michael Gomes, The Hague: I.S.I.S. Foundation, 2010. These have also been published in April, 2014, as The Secret Doctrine Dialogues, Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company (not yet seen by me).

15. The Sanskrit edition and English translation of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras prepared by Anantalal Thakur is by far the most definitive edition and translation available today. It is based primarily on the readings found in the anonymous commentary that he published in 1957 and found in the text as commented on by Candrānanda that was published in 1961 (see note 3 above). It was published in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, 2003, pp. 24-121. It completely supersedes the editions and translations of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras as commented on by Śaṅkara-miśra that had long been the standard.

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence

By David Reigle on March 16, 2014 at 1:57 am

An article titled, “The Book of Dzyan, The Current State of the Evidence,” was published in Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin, Supplement, 2013, pp. 87-120.* Because of its direct relevance to the purpose of this blog, it is posted here, and may be accessed by clicking on the title. The Brahmavidyā Supplement is a special issue “Commemorating the 125th year of publication of The Secret Doctrine by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” which includes the following articles:

1. Why Study The Secret Doctrine? by Radha Burnier.
2. Cosmogony in the Stanzas of Dzyan, by Pablo Sender.
3. Reading the Book of Knowledge, by Doss McDavid.
4. The Secret Doctrine in the 21st Century, by Shirley J. Nicholson.
5. Keys to The Secret Doctrine, by Chris Bartzokas.
6. The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence, by David Reigle.
7. The Essence of The Secret Doctrine, by Harvey Tordoff.
8. The Secret Doctrine: To Be Read Wholly, by John Algeo.
9. Beyond the Sevenfold Schemes, by Dara Eklund.
10. Annie Besant and The Secret Doctrine, by Pedro Oliveira.
11. Interpreting The Secret Doctrine, by Joy Mills.

Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin was started in 1937. Since the mid-1950s it has been solely an Indological journal, not a Theosophical journal. This Supplement is the first of its kind.

* A pre-publication version of my article, without the inevitable typos incident to publication, is also available here: “The Book of Dzyan, The Current State of the Evidence, pre-pub.

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


The Orthography of Dgyu or Dzyu

By Ingmar de Boer on March 5, 2014 at 11:31 pm

1. Why would we want to know the orthography of dgyu?

On the one hand the term fohat is the most enigmatic of the technical terms used in The Secret Doctrine (SD), and on the other, it is crucial to the esoteric philosophy presented in the work. There are only a few locations in the SD where fohat is unambiguously connected to other concepts, one of which is in SD I, 31 (stanza V, śloka 2):


This is a strong statement, most probably referring to the moment when the universe is evolving from the state of pralaya, where fohat is connected to “THE DZYU”, as it is spelled in the SD. Defining this concept DZYU, or dgyu as it is spelled in another location, would take us very close to exactly defining and understanding the mysterious concept of fohat and its workings.

2. How does HPB describe dgyu?

The only location in the SD where dgyu is described, is SD I, 108, where HPB comments on stanza V, śloka 2:

Dzyu is the one real (magical) knowledge, or Occult Wisdom; which, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omnipotence when applied in the right direction. Its antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences. In this case, Dzyu is the expression of the collective Wisdom of the Dhyani-Buddhas.

The term dgyu is not found in the TG. In the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary published by the Theosophical University Press, Dzyu is identified as a Senzar word, referring to SD I, 108, but there is no clue to be found in HPB’s writings to indicate that it would be indeed Senzar.

3. Cosmological Notes

Prior to 1885 the term fohat was not used in theosophical literature. The oldest document in which it was used are the “Cosmological Notes”, containing written instructions from Mahātma M. to A.O. Hume, handed down to us by A.P. Sinnett, and published both in ETM and BL. In the Cosmological Notes (BL p. 376) we find a similar affirmation as in SD I, stanza V, śloka 2:

Dgyu becomes Fohat when in its activity – active agent of will – electricity – no other name.

All technical terms in the Notes seem to be Sanskrit or Tibetan, so we might assume that Dgyu is also a Tibetan, as it has a structure looking like a Tibetan syllable.

An interesting detail in the manuscript of the Cosmological Notes is the fact that the first time they are mentioned, the terms dgyu and dgyu mi both carry an umlaut (Dgyü). In ML 35 (written by KH), dgyu is spelled as dgiü, also with umlaut.

BL Mss - Appendix II

4. The Syllable Dgyu: the Rime

The IPA /y/ sound in standard Tibetan is only realised when a syllable ends in -ud or -us. This would narrow down considerably the possibilities for the orthography of dgyu.

Some of the umlauts in the text seem to have been added later, perhaps at the same time the annotations were interscribed, including the underlined title “Appendix II” on top of page 2. The annotations do not seem to be in the same handwriting as the original notes. Compare for example, the capital A of the word Appendix with the capital A’s in the manuscript text. In The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett (BL) the Notes appear as Appendix II. It is therefore entirely possible that the annotations and also the umlauts are the handwriting of the transcriber/compiler of the book, A.T. Barker. This would be consistent with the spelling in the ML edited by Barker. The umlauts on Dgyü and Dgyü Mi however, are not reproduced in BL. In Jinarajadasa’s edition (ETM) of the Notes, the umlauts are absent as well.

5. The Syllable Dgyu: the Onset

In Jinarajadasa’s edition, a remark of Sinnett is added, telling that M. himself “wrote out” the table of correspondences between Man and Universe. This means that Sinnet has copied the table from the handwriting of M., instead of interpreting the words from hearing. Interestingly, in the table, Linga Sharira is called Ling Sharir in line 3, we also have Bhut, Purush, Brahm, dropping the final a’s, as in the Sanskrit pronounciation typical of speakers of modern Hindi. Apparently M’s concern was that the words were written as they were pronounced, as opposed to how they were written in the original language. The rendering of the Tibetan terms is therefore presumably also a phonetic transcription for an English target audience.

In that case, the d in dgyu could not have been a silent letter. Also, English has two sounds associated with the letter g (besides /ŋ/ in “thing”), the plosive /g/ and the affricate /dʒ/. The dg-combination does not exist with a plosive /g/-sound in English, so our dgy-combination would probably be the affricate /dʒ/, the g-sound in “gin”, or something close to it. This is consistent with HPB’s spelling DZYU, for example in SD I, 108. The /dʒ/, and phonemes very close to it, are listed in the following table.

Possible phonemes for the onset, and their Tibetan Wylie transliteration, in approximate order of distance from /dʒ/:

1. palato-alveolar /dʒ/ = pya, bya, …
2. alveolo-palatal /dʑ/ or /ndʑ/ = mja, ‘ja
3. alveolo-palatal /ɽ/ = ra
4. retroflex /dʐ/ or /ndʐ/ = ‘dra, ‘gra, …
5. palatal /nj/ = ‘gya
6. palatal /c/ with deep tone = brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …
7. palatal /ch/ with deep tone = gya

6. Dictionaries

Combining the ideas on onset and rime, we could try finding some matching candidates for dgyu, using a lexicon. In the following table all combinations are summed up, with the entries found in common dictionaries marked bold.




pya, bya, …

pyud, byud, …

pyus, byus, …


mja, ‘ja

mjud, ‘jud

mjus, ‘jus






‘dra, ‘gra, …

‘drud, ‘grud, …

‘drus, ‘grus, …






brgya, bsgya, dgya, bgya, rgya, sgya, …

brgyud, bsgyud, dgyud, bgyud, rgyud, sgyud, …

brgyus, bsgyus, dgyus, bgyus, rgyus, sgyus, …





Elements we may look for in the translation are “real (magical) knowledge, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes” (SD I, 108), and the negation dgyu mi, or min or med, “illusion and false appearances only” (SD I, 108).

One of the most valued translators of Tibetan to English is Jeffrey Hopkins, who prepared a Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary, which was also published in digital form by the Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taipei in 2011.

a. Under rus we find there:

(translation-san) asthi
(translation-san) {C} gotra
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {MSA} keng rus = saṃkalikā
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} bone; lineage; family
(translation-eng) {C} lineage; birth; species; kind; different varieties

b. Under ‘grus we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} zeal; enthusiasm; diligence

c. Under brgyud pa we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,MSA} para

(translation-san) {LCh} pāramparya
(translation-san) {MSA} pāra

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} indirect; lineaged

d. Under rgyud we find:

(translation-san) {L,MSA,MV} sa

(translation-san) {MSA} sa

(translation-san) tantra
(translation-san) prabandha
(translation-san) {C} jāti
(translation-san) {C} va

(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} continuum; mental continuum; life continuum; tantra
(translation-eng) {C} birth; species; kind; different varieties; lineage;{GD:515} indirect (as opposed to direct, dngos)
(comments) Comment: See rgyun.

e. Under rgyus we find:

(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} kim nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar;
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} familiar; familiar with
(translation-eng) {C} linked with; foundation; for the sake of; Origins; because; wherefrom; and for what reason?; that link; as a result of
The items marked {C} are based on Edward Conze’s 1973 Materials for a Dictionary of the Prajñāpāramitā Literature. The item Hopkins added himself is the translation “familiar”.

Under rgyus med we find:

(translation-eng) {Hopkins} having no knowledge; having no familiarity
(translation-eng) {C} so as to get acquainted with

In the older dictionary of Jäschke (1881) the lemma rgyus first refers to rgyu, and secondly gives “notice, intelligence, knowledge”. Rgyus is the instrumental case of rgyu: cause, or because.

Under rgyu we find:

(translation-san) {LCh,L,MSA,MV} hetu
(translation-san) {C,MV} hetutva
(translation-san) {LCh,MSA,MV,C} kāra

(translation-san) {C,MSA,MV} upani

(translation-san) {C} (=hetu-bhāva)
(translation-san) {MSA} anvaya
(translation-san) {MSA,MV} nimitta
(translation-san) {MSA} nimittatva
(translation-san) {C} nidāna
(translation-san) {C} etan-nidānā
(translation-san) {C} ki

(translation-san) {C} tato nidānam
(translation-san) {C} tan-nidānam
(translation-san) {C} pracāra
(translation-san) {C} pravartate (=pravartayati)
(translation-san) {MSA} smig rgyu = marīci
(translation-eng) {Hopkins} cause; (as verb): wander; move; go; (following a verb, indicates): to be done
(translation-eng) {C} comparison; reason; for the sake of; linked with; foundation; Origins; because; wherefrom and for what reason?; on the strength of that; as a result of; that link; observation; performance; proceeds; takes place; move forward; spread;causality
(definition-bod) mtshan nyid 1 skyed byed/ 2 phan ‘dogs byed/
(definition-eng) Def.: (1) producer; (2) benefitter
(division-bod) sgras brjod rigs kyi sgo nas dbye ba/ 1 byed rgyu 2 lhan cig byung ba’i rgyu 3 skal mnyam gyi rgyu 4 mtshungs ldan gyi rgyu 5 kun ‘gro’i rgyu 6 rnam smin gyi rgyu
(division-eng) Terminological Div.: (1) creative cause; (2) co-arisen cause; (3) cause of equal/similar lot; (4) associational cause; (5) omnipresent cause; (6) fruitional cause
(comments) Comment: rgyu is used to make a verbal object noun as in bsgrub rgyu which means the same as bsgrub bya (that which is to be accomplished/achieved/practiced) or, in spoken Tibetan, bsgrub ya.

Literature used in preparing the diagram Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004 2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997 3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

Literature used in preparing the diagram
1. Joachim Grzega, Bezeichnungswandel: Wie Warum, Wozu?, Winter, Heidelberg, 2004
2. Andreas Blank, Prinzipien des Lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, 1997
3. Tibetan and related dictionaries: Conze (1973), Das (1902), Jäschke (1881), Hopkins (2011), Mahavyutpatti (nos. 7625, 7199), Matisoff (STEDT, online), Rangjung Yeshe (online), Starostin (Starling, online), etc.

7. Orthography

Of the matching Tibetan terms, rgyus might be a realistic candidate for dgyu, fitting HPB’s description in the sense that we find the two elements of “knowledge” and “primal causes” from the description in SD I, 108 associated with the term rgyu, which is, in its turn, closely related to rgyus. The spelling dgyü, with an umlaut, following A.T. Barker, would then be justified.

In an earlier post entitled “Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause” we have argued that dgyu being the (manifested) “propelling force” which “sets in motion the law of Cosmic Evolution”, is kāraṇa, the “force” resulting in cosmic motion, or the principle of abstract motion. (cp. SD I, 109-110) In Hopkins’ dictionary we find nidāna under rgyus, a term which is used by HPB as a synonym for kāraṇa, and the term kāraṇa itself under rgyu.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Causeless Cause, Cosmological Notes Manuscript, Fohat, Great Breath, Karana, Mahatma Letters, Motion, Nidana | No comments yet


Searching for the Sources of the Book of Dzyan – Archives

By admin on March 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The quest for the sources of the Book of Dzyan as a public project started before this blog, on another blog, with many contributors. Almost two years of studies were recorded there. This represents a valuable contribution to the project, and it was deemed useful to give access to these records. A compilation of the contributors who created this current blog (The Book of Dzyan) was made, together with a lexical index.
Unfortunately, all these posts were deleted from the first blog, and therefore, all links and references to it will not be active.
The document is available here :    2010-2012 Book of Dzyan Studies

Category: Administration | No comments yet


Prabhāsvara in the Canonical Texts and in Cosmogony

By David Reigle on February 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

updated June 5, 2015

“The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” the previous “Creation Stories” posting, shows the world arising from prabhāsvara, “luminosity” or the “clear light.” We do not read about prabhāsvara in standard sourcebooks on Buddhism. We must try to get a clearer picture of what it is by finding the passages on it in the Buddhist canonical texts, the sūtras and tantras, and the treatises explaining them. Although it is found in the early Buddhist sūtras, it is not a teaching that is featured in them. In the Buddhist tantras, however, prabhāsvara is a prominent teaching. The Buddhist tantras are regarded by modern scholars as a late development in Buddhism, because they do not appear in historical sources until the latter portion of the first millennium C.E. Tibetan Buddhist tradition explains this fact by saying that the tantras were kept secret for many centuries after the time of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni. Even after their existence became publicly known, they have been regarded as teachings to be kept secret from those who have not received initiation into them. It is only in the last decades of the twentieth century C.E. that this traditional restriction has started to be lifted. This fact helps to explain why prabhāsvara, especially in its role in cosmogony, has remained largely unknown.

The Sanskrit word prabhāsvara was translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, meaning literally “clear (gsal) light (’od).” Thus, thanks to the many translations of Buddhist texts from Tibetan into English in recent decades, prabhāsvara has come to be known in English as “clear light” via its Tibetan translation ’od gsal. Translators working directly from the Sanskrit texts have usually preferred to translate prabhāsvara with words such as “luminosity” or “luminous,” for a couple of reasons. In standard Sanskrit, prabhāsvara was only known as an adjective, defined by Monier-Williams as “shining forth, shining brightly, brilliant,” and by V. S. Apte as “brilliant, bright, shining.” As we can see, the Tibetan translation ’od gsal, “clear light,” is a noun. It is hard to make “clear light” into an adjective if needed (although not impossible), while “luminosity” can easily be made into the adjective, “luminous.” Another reason would be that prabhāsvara is not a compound term in Sanskrit, like “clear (gsal) light (’od)” is in Tibetan. It consists of the main part, bhāsvara, which by itself means the same as prabhāsvara, plus the prefix pra. While prefixes such as pra obviously add something to the meaning of a word, what they add, more often than not, is not enough to require an additional word in the translation.

How, then, did prabhāsvara come to be translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, “clear light”? One of the many meanings of the prefix pra when added to nouns, according to the Gaṇa-ratna-mahodadhi by Vardhamāna as cited by Vaman Shivaram Apte in The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, is “purity,” giving the example, prasannaṃ jalam, which means “pure water” or “clear water.” This shows us why ’od gsal, “clear light,” was chosen long ago as the standardized Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara, rather than just ’od, “light.” Yet the related Sanskrit word prabhā was translated into Tibetan as just ’od, “light,” even though it has the prefix pra. In prabhā, as is more usual, the prefix pra does not change the meaning from “light” to “clear light.” An example of an actual compound term in Sanskrit is the title Vimala-prabhā, meaning “stainless (vimala) light (prabhā).” It seems, then, that the addition of gsal, “clear,” to ’od, “light,” serves to distinguish ’od gsal, “clear light,” as a technical term. So there is good reason to translate prabhāsvara either as “clear light” or as “luminosity” when used as a noun. A translator must choose one or the other, and the choice may come down to nothing more than indicating whether the translation was made from the Sanskrit directly or from a Tibetan translation.

In the following translations of the selected Sanskrit passages, I will translate prabhāsvara with the adjective “luminous” or with the noun “luminosity,” for which one can substitute the “clear light.” 

What is perhaps the most frequently quoted passage on prabhāsvara from the sūtras is from the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines. It begins with a statement that is characteristic of the Perfection of Wisdom or Prajñā-pāramitā writings, “That mind is no mind.” Then it explains why:1

tac cittam acittam | prakṛtiś cittasya prabhāsvarā

“That mind is no mind. The nature of mind is luminous.”

This idea, and this term in its Pali form, pabhassara, is not absent from the sūtras or suttas of the Pali Buddhist canon. A passage from the Aṅguttara-nikāya collection tells us the same thing, that “This mind is luminous.” Then it adds a necessary qualification that we will see again and again:2

pabhassaram idaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ tañ ca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ

“This mind is luminous, O monks, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

Almost the same wording is found in Sanskrit in the Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, usually classified as one of the ten tathāgata-garbha or buddha-nature sūtras. The original Sanskrit text of this sūtra was only recently discovered in Tibet, and was published for the first time in 2004. Its passage is:3

prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ tac cāgantukair upakleśair upakliśyate

“This mind is luminous by nature, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

This same statement that we see in prose in the sūtras was put into verse form for easier memorization in the treatises explaining them. Dharmakīrti, one of the most famous Indian writers on reasoning, in his Pramāṇa-vārttika has the following verse line of sixteen syllables:4

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ

“This mind is luminous by nature; the impurities are adventitious.”

This same line is the first line of a verse quoted as summarizing the Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda view, the view that everything is consciousness only. The second line of this verse is not found in Dharmakīrti’s treatise. This verse is quoted in a Hindu text, the commentary by Jayaratha on the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta, to represent the Buddhist view:5

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ |

teṣām apāye sarvārthaṃ taj jyotir avinaśvaram ||

“This mind is luminous by nature; the impurities are adventitious. Upon their disappearance, everything is that imperishable light.”

Here we have the stated equivalence of luminous, prabhāsvara, and light, jyotis, in agreement with the Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara as the noun, ’od gsal, “clear light.” The Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda school holds that everything is consciousness only, vijñāna-mātra, or mind only, citta-mātra. Since the nature of mind is luminous, prabhāsvara, it follows that everything is this nature of mind, and this nature of mind is luminosity or light. Thus, when the adventitious impurities disappear, there is nothing left but luminosity, and “everything is that imperishable light.”

In Buddhism, the cosmos is described as consisting of the dharmas, the “elements of existence,” or “phenomena,” as this term is often translated. So to say that everything is mind only, and the mind is luminous by nature, is to say that all dharmas are mind only, and the dharmas are luminous by nature. This is just what is said in the Guhyasamāja-tantra, one of the most important of the so-called highest yoga tantras:6

prakṛti-prabhāsvarā dharmāḥ suviśuddhā nabhaḥ-samāḥ

“The dharmas are luminous by nature, pure, and equal to space.”

That everything is prabhāsvara or luminous by nature is understood to be ultimate truth. In the tantric writings, prabhāsvara comes to be used as a noun, luminosity or clear light. The Indian writer Candrakīrti in his Pradīpoddyotana commentary on the Guhyasamāja-tantra says:7

prabhāsvaram paramārtha-satyam

“Luminosity is ultimate truth.”

This is why Nāgārjuna can say in his Pañcakrama that the cause of the world is prabhāsvara, luminosity, as posted earlier in “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras”:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram || 3.15 ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

The origination of the world from prabhāsvara is found not only in Buddhist tantric texts, but also in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, attributed by Tibetan tradition to Maitreya. The central topic of that book is the dhātu, the element, the one element distinguished from all other elements by calling it the buddha-element (tathāgata-dhātu). This pure element (vaimalya-dhātu) is equated with the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti) in chapter 1, verse 49, saying that it is found everywhere, like space. There follows a description of the buddha-element in verses 52-63 using comparisons, where it is said that phenomenal life arises from and returns to the nature of mind (cittasya prakti). This nature of mind is then said to be prabhāsvara in the concluding verses of this group:8

na hetuḥ pratyayo nāpi na sāmagrī na codayaḥ |
na vyayo na sthitiś citta-prakṛter vyoma-dhātuvat || 1.62 ||

cittasya yāsau prakṛtiḥ prabhāsvarā na jātu sā dyaur iva yāti vikriyām |

“The nature of mind, like the space element, has no cause, nor condition, nor coming together [of causes and conditions], no arising, no perishing, no remaining. This nature of mind is luminous; like space, it never undergoes change.”

Here in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, like elsewhere, the canonical texts consistently say that prabhāsvara is the nature (prakṛti) of mind (citta), not mind per se. This refers to the true nature (dharmatā) mind, not any other mind. As stated in the Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, a fundamental Yogācāra or Vijñāna-vāda text attributed to either Maitreya or Asaṅga:9

mataṃ ca cittaṃ prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ sadā tad āgantuka-doṣa-dūṣitaṃ |
na dharmatā-cittam ṛte ‘nya-cetasaḥ prabhāsvaratvaṃ prakṛtau vidhīyate || 13.19 ||

“Mind is held to always be luminous by nature; it is polluted by adventitious faults. Apart from the true nature mind, it is taught, no other mind is luminous in [its] nature.

Indeed, the Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, an explanatory tantra associated with the Guhyasamāja-tantra, tells us that mind arises from prabhāsvara. This is mind as consciousness (vijñāna), the consciousness we are familiar with. The Sanskrit original of this tantra is lost, but the relevant passage is quoted in the Caryāmelāpaka-pradīpa by Āryadeva, as follows:10

yat prabhāsvarodbhavaṃ vijñānaṃ tad eva cittaṃ mana iti | tan-mūlāḥ sarva-dharmāḥ saṃkleśa-vyavadānātmakāḥ | tataḥ kalpanā-dvayaṃ bhavaty ātmā paraś ceti | tad vijñānaṃ vāyu-vāhanam |

“The very consciousness that is arisen from luminosity is mind (citta), thought (manas). All dharmas, having the nature of defilement and purification, have that [luminosity] as their root. From that [luminosity] come the two [false] conceptions, self and other. That consciousness has wind as its vehicle.”

As the last sentence indicates, the mind that arises from prabhāsvara always has a subtle wind (vāyu) as its vehicle or mount. This is a fact in tantric cosmogony, a fact used in tantric practice. The Tibetan teacher Tsongkhapa, quoting an earlier Tibetan scholar in his major treatise on advanced Guhyasamāja practice titled A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, writes (as translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013):11

“Until you gain control over the horse-like winds, the mount of the mind, you will not gain control over the rider-like mind.”

This, as noted in the posting, “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Here we have even the same terms used in the analogy. These two work together to produce the phenomenal world. The present Dalai Lama has put this hitherto secret tantric teaching on cosmogony in contemporary language in his 1997 book, The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, translated by Alexander Berzin:12

“. . . Tsongkapa has mentioned that the inanimate environment and the animate beings within it are all the play or emanation of subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy-wind—in other words, simultaneously arising primordial clear light mind and the subtlest level of energy-wind upon which it rides.”

“. . . In other words, when the subtlest energy-wind causes movement from the sphere of clear light, the coarser levels of mind that emerge, from the three most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds onwards, produce the appearances of all phenomena of the environment . . .

“. . . This is the Buddhist explanation for what is called the creator in other traditions.”

The Book of Dzyan account of cosmogony says poetically, stanza 3, verse 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” We have already seen that fohat must correspond to the winds on which mind rides. We now note that svabhāva, “inherent nature,” is a synonym of prakṛti, “nature,” here presumably the nature of mind, which is prabhāsvara, luminosity or the clear light.



1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, chapter 1, P. L. Vaidya edition, 1960, p. 3, line 18. This is quoted in the Vimalaprabhā, vol. 1, 1986, p. 23, lines 12-13.

2. Aṅguttara-nikāya, 1.5.9-10 and 1.6.1-2, Pali Text Society edition, vol. 1, pp. 8-9.

3. Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, edited by Takayasu Kimura, Nobuo Otsuka, Hideaki Kimura, and Hisao Takahashi, in Kukai no shisoto bunka: Onozuka kichohakushi koki kinen ronbunshu (Kobodaishi Kukai’s Thought and Culture: Felicitation Volumes on the Occasion of Dr. Kicho Onozuka’s 70th Birthday), 2004, p. 49. See also pp. 55, 66 (all used in defining bodhi).

4. Pramāṇa-vārttika, Pramāṇa-siddhi chapter, verse 208ab, or 210cd in the Ram Chandra Pandeya edition, 1989. This line is quoted in the Abhayapaddhati of Abhayākaragupta, 2009, p. 29. The same idea can also be seen in “The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna” (posting dated April 6, 2012), where verses 19 and 21 speak of the prabhāsvaraṃ cittam.

5. Jayaratha’s commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka, chapter 4, verse 30, Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies edition, vol. 3, 1921, p. 33. This reference was given in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition and translation of The Āgamaśāstra of Gauḍapāda, 1943, pp. cxli, 70.

6. Guhyasamāja-tantra, chapter 2, verse 7ab, quoted from the Yukei Matsunaga edition, 1978. See also chapter 7, verses 34, 35.

7. Pradīpoddyotana, by Candrakīrti, edited by Chintaharan Chakravarti, 1984, p. 33, repeated on p. 71. This reference was given in Bauddha Tantra Kośa, vol. 1, 1990, p. 77.

8. Ratnagotra-vibhāga, chapter 1, verses 62-63ab. Within the block of verses 52-63, the nature of mind is referred to in verses 57, 59, and 60, and the specific statement saying that phenomenal life arises from and returns to it is in verse 61. This is glossed as the origination of the world in the commentary following verse 64.

9. Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, by Maitreya (Tibetan tradition) or Asaṅga (Chinese tradition), chapter 13, verse 19. For prabhāsvara in another Yogācāra text, see Madhyānta-vibhāga, chapter 1, verse 23 (22 in Gadjin Nagao edition), explaining śūnyatā, emptiness.

10. Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, quoted in Āryadeva’s Caryāmelāpakapradīpam, Janardan Shastri Pandey edition, 2000, p. 41; Christian K. Wedemeyer edition, in Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa), 2007, p. 401.

11. A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, by Tsongkhapa, translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013, p. 155. This passage is found in Robert Thurman’s translation of this text, Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp of the Five Stages, 2010, p. 169.

12. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, by the Dalai Lama, translated by Alexander Berzin, 1997, pp. 123, 252-253. The first part of the quote is: “The latter [the clear light mind] is similar to Tsongkapa’s explanation in Precious Sprout, Deciding the Difficult Points of [Chandrakirti’s] ‘An illuminating Lamp [for ‘The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra’].’ In the prologue section, commenting on a quotation from Nagarjuna’s The Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage], . . .”

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras

By David Reigle on December 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm

The standard Buddhist account of cosmogony shows the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu). This account is based on the Buddhist sūtras, and was formulated in the Abhidharma texts. Another account, based on the Buddhist tantras, shows the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal), which is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti). The Book of Dzyan is said to be the first volume of commentaries on the secret Books of Kiu-te (rgyud sde), i.e., the Buddhist tantras. So we might expect its cosmogony account to be closer to that from the known Buddhist tantras than to that from the Buddhist sūtras. In the Book of Dzyan (stanza 3, verse 3), the actual moment of manifestation is described with the words, “darkness radiates light.” In the Buddhist tantras, too, the world arises from light, the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara). This cosmogony was concisely formulated by Āryadeva in only four verses. These were often quoted in other tantric texts as what seems to have become the standard account of cosmogony and dissolution from the Buddhist tantras, specifically the so-called “highest yoga” tantras.

Āryadeva is regarded as the spiritual son of Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna wrote the Pañca-krama, the “Five Stages,” describing the completion stage practices of the Guhyasamāja-tantra. The Guhyasamāja-tantra is one of the most central of the “highest yoga” tantras in Buddhism. The third of its five completion stage practices is called svādhiṣṭhāna, “self-blessing” or “self-consecration.” On this, Āryadeva wrote a short treatise called the Svādhiṣṭhāna-krama-prabheda, or just Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda. The four verses giving the Buddhist tantric account of cosmogony are verses 18-21 of this treatise. The original Sanskrit text of the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda was found and was first published in Dhīḥ: A Review of Rare Buddhist Texts, vol. 10, 1990, pp. 20-24. It was reprinted along with its Tibetan translation in Bauddhalaghugrantha Samgraha, edited by Janardan Pandey, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1997, pp. 169-194. The four verses on cosmogony were quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, a Kālacakra work: 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli, pp. 51-52; 2006 edition by Francesco Sferra, pp. 150-151. As there noted by Sferra, they were also quoted in the Amtakaikodyota commentary on the Mañjuśrī-nāma-sagīti, edited by Banarsi Lal, 1994, p. 165, and in the Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra, edited by Zhongxin Jiang and Toru Tomabechi, 1996, p. 58.

From these texts I have prepared a Sanskrit edition of Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony, giving variant readings, and have translated these verses into English. They explain more fully what was said in a verse from the svādhiṣṭhāna chapter of Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama, which I cite and translate first. There are no variants for this verse in the three Sanskrit editions: the 1896 edition by L. de la Vallée Poussin, the 1994 edition by Katsumi Mimaki and Tōru Tomabechi, and the 2001 edition by Ram Shankar Tripathi. It is Pañcakrama, chapter 3, verse 15:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony from the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda that explain this more fully are:

prabhāsvarān mahā-śūnyaṃ tasmāc copāya-sambhavaḥ |

tasmād utpadyate prajñā tasyāḥ pavana-sambhavaḥ || 18 ||

18. From luminosity (prabhāsvara) [arises] the great void (mahā-śūnya), and from that is the arising of means (upāya). From that, wisdom (prajñā) is arisen. From that is the arising of air.

pavanād agni-sambhūtir agneś ca jala-sambhavaḥ |

jalāc ca jāyate pṛthvī sattvānām eṣa sambhavaḥ || 19 ||

19. From air is the arising of fire, and from fire is the arising of water; and from water, earth is born. This is the arising of living beings.

bhū-dhātur līyate toye toyaṃ tejasi līyate |

tejaś ca sūkṣma-dhātau ca vāyuś citte vilīyate || 20 ||

20. The earth element dissolves in water. Water dissolves in fire, and fire in the subtle element [air]. Air dissolves in mind (citta).

cittaṃ caitasike līyetāvidyāyāṃ tu caitasam |

sāpi prabhāsvaraṃ gacchen nirodho ’yaṃ bhava-traye || 21 ||

21. Mind will dissolve in the mental derivatives (caitasika), and the mental derivatives in ignorance (avidyā). This, too, will go to luminosity (prabhāsvara). That is the cessation of the triple world.


As may be deduced from the fact that these verses are given or quoted in “highest yoga” tantra texts, this account of the creation and dissolution of the world from and into prabhāsvara, luminosity or clear light, is correlated to advanced yogic practice. Āryadeva’s concise four verses provide what seems to have been taken as the most representative statement on cosmogony as understood in the Buddhist “highest yoga” tantras. This cosmogony was discussed further in a number of other tantric texts from the standpoint of tantric practice. Very few of these texts have yet been translated into English.

The cosmogony account showing the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu), based on the Buddhist sūtras, and the cosmogony account showing the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal) that is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti), based on the Buddhist tantras, need not be taken as conflicting alternative accounts. The latter account can be seen as simply going a little further back. According to Buddhism, karma is not just action per se but rather is volitional action, and there can be no volitional action without mind. So the nature of mind, luminosity, must be there for karma to occur.

Furthermore, the tantric texts that discuss this cosmogony of the luminosity or clear light nature of mind normally do so in association with the subtle winds or airs. The teaching is that mind or consciousness rides on the winds as its mount (vāhana). This is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Fohat, the “fiery whirlwind,” is closely parallel to the primordial wind that forms the world in the karmic wind cosmogony. The two Buddhist cosmogony accounts appear to be the two parts of a single cosmogony, much like the one given more fully in the Book of Dzyan.

Variant readings:

18b: śūnyāc for tasmāc, SṬ1, SṬ2, AKU.

18c: upāyāj jāyate prajñā, AKU.

19b: ca is omitted, PKṬ.

19c: jalāj jāyate pṛthivī, SṬ1, SṬ2.

19d: bhavāṅgānām ayaṃ nayaḥ, AKU.

20a: pṛthivī līyate toye, AKU.

20b: toyas tejasi, SP1, SP2.

21a: cittaś caitasike, SP1, SP2.

21ab: līyed avidyāyāṃ, AKU, PKṬ.

21b: cetasam for caitasam, SP1, SP2, AKU.

21c: so ’pi for sāpi, SP1, SP2.


AKU = Amtakaikodyota.

PKṬ = Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra.

SP1 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1990 edition.

SP2 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1997 edition.

SṬ1 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 1941 edition.

SṬ2 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 2006 edition.

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


Catalogue of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) 2011 edition

By David Reigle on December 3, 2013 at 11:53 pm

A listing of all the Tibetan titles in the 2011 edition of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) is here attached (Dolpopa Collected Writings Catalogue). In compiling this, I have included and translated the source statement for each text. This indicates whether the particular text is based primarily on newly available sources, or solely on the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, which is in turn based primarily on the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition. The ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition did not become available to the outside world until 1992, while the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition followed several years later. The 2011 edition was additionally able to draw upon sources that became available even more recently. These are old texts that had been sealed away in the Nechu temple at Drepung monastery since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). Also used occasionally were old texts from Dza-’go, and a few other old texts. Approximately half of the content of the 2011 edition is based primarily on these old sources.

All of Dolpopa’s writings that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions are included in the 2011 edition. Further, the thirty-two part biography of Dolpopa that includes his past lives, written by his disciple Kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang po, is found in all three editions. The ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, however, includes three additional biographical texts on Dolpopa that are not found in the 2011 edition or in the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition.

The 2011 edition includes thirteen newly found texts that are not found in the ’Dzam-thang editions. These comprise volume 13. This is stated by the editors in the introductory material given in volume 1, after saying that the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition in eight volumes contains about 200 texts (p. 6): da lan yang nged dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang gis gsar rnyed kyi chos tshan 13 bsnan te | deb grangs bcu gsum du bgos nas |. The introductory material is dated in two places, both giving 2007, although all of the volumes are dated 2011, and they did not become available until 2013. So at the time this edition was prepared, 2007 or before, these thirteen newly found texts could well be described as newly found. However, the two largest of these, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, and Dolpopa’s abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, were published in 2007 and 2008 in the Jonang Publication Series. Moreover, Michael Sheehy has noted that some of the other eleven had previously been published in the one volume of The Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa that was published from Bhutan in 1984. This volume was apparently not used by the editors of the new edition.

The thirteen texts published in volume 13 as newly found are listed below. When any of these texts were published elsewhere, the references have been added. Some texts with similar titles, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, have also been noted. The source statements of these thirteen texts may be seen in the attached catalogue listing.

1. theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa thogs med kyis mdzad pa, annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, pp. 1-188. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 2, Rgyud bla’i ṭīkka, 2007, pp. 1-128.

2. dpal ldan dus ‘khor rgyud ‘grel gyi || bsdus don yongs ‘du lta bu, abbreviated meaning of the Kalacakra-tantra commentary, pp. 189-264. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 17, Dus ’khor rgyud mchan by Phyogs las rnam rgyal, 2008, pp. 227-283. A manuscript of this in cursive script was reproduced in Dus ’khor ’grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1 {11} (1/7/2), 2007, pp. 487-539.

3. dus ‘khor gyi lha ‘dabs ‘ga’, pp. 265-291.

4. kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, pp. 292-308. This is a considerably longer work than kun gzhi rab dbye, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 159-161 (kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba). This longer work is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 105-130.

5. stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba, pp. 309-314. This is a considerably shorter work than stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions (and in the 1984 Bhutan volume), and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 162-177.

6. don dam dbyings rig dbyer med la bstod pa, pp. 315-321. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 480-489.

7. dpal phyag rgya chen po la bstod cing phyag ‘tshal ba rin chen ‘byung gnas, pp. 322-325. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 490-495.

8. mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, pp. 326-329. This is different from bka’ mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 243-244.

9. slob dpon blo gros seng ge’i dris lan, pp. 330-343.

10. gsol ‘debs kyi rgyal po, pp. 344-346.

11. spang blang gi chos ngos bzung ba sogs, pp. 347-349.

12. sku ‘bum chen po grub dus btab pa’i smon lam, pp. 350-352. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 462-466.

13. lo gsar pa bkra shis par byed pa’i thabs gsum pa, pp. 353-354. This is a third version among two other versions of this title that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 12, pp. 336-338 and 339-341.

Category: Noteworthy Books | No comments yet


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Abhidharmakośa

By David Reigle on November 17, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The Abhidharma-kośa has long been the standard sourcebook on early Buddhism in use among Mahāyāna Buddhists, and is studied by them up to the present. It presents the entire Buddhist worldview, skillfully condensed by Vasubandhu into 600 terse verses, which are explained by him in his own detailed commentary (bhāṣya) on them. It is an encyclopedic work, reflecting the wide knowledge of educated Buddhists in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E. prevalent in Kashmir, the famous center where these Buddhist teachings were preserved and cultivated and taught. For this reason, it proved to be exceptionally challenging to translate into a Western language. Although this text was known to Western scholars since the mid-1800s, its translation was not attempted until the second and third decades of the 1900s. The fact that the Sanskrit original of the Abhidharmakośa and its own commentary (bhāṣya) by Vasubandhu was then lost made this task doubly difficult. These texts could at that time be studied only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations, with the help of a Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra that had been found in Nepal. Not until later was the Sanskrit original discovered in Tibet by Rahula Sankrityayana.

The difficult task of translating the Abhidharmakośa and the bhāṣya thereon was accomplished by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, whose annotated French translation was published in six volumes, 1923-1931. He devoted the latter half of his life to it, after in the first half of his life mastering all four Buddhist canonical languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan. His translation, then necessarily made from the Chinese and Tibetan translations, has not so far been superseded. This is because of his detailed annotations, drawing on a wide range of Buddhist texts in all four canonical languages. His French translation was translated into English in four volumes by Leo M. Pruden, 1988-1990, and translated again into English in four volumes by Lodrö Sangpo, 2012, with many additional annotations. Yet, since the discovery of the Sanskrit original in the mid-1930s, everyone knew that a new translation made directly from it will be required. The Sanskrit Abhidharmakośa was published in 1946, edited by V. V. Gokhale, while the Sanskrit bhāṣya thereon was published in 1967, edited by P. Pradhan (both posted here in the Sanskrit texts section). We do not yet have a translation of the Sanskrit original. We have instead two English translations of a French translation of Chinese and Tibetan translations of the Sanskrit original. Errors in these are inevitable, as will be seen in the passages given below, which I translate from the Sanskrit original.

Chapter 3 of the Abhidharmakośa is titled loka-nirdeśa, “exposition of the world.” This chapter includes a description of the sattva-loka, the “world of living beings,” followed by a description of the bhājana-loka, the “receptacle world.” The receptacle world is the vessel or container or receptacle for the living beings, the house as distinguished from its occupants. So after the kinds of living beings are described, the world in which they live is described. This is the receptacle world. What this chapter describes, however, is not limited to our visible world. It is an entire world-system, a loka-dhātu, more fully a “triple-thousand-great-thousand” (tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra) world-system (loka-dhātu). Below the human realm are eight hell realms, and above the human realm are twenty-seven heaven realms, where dwell twenty-seven classes of gods (deva). That these beings are invisible to us is taken for granted; it is not stated. Likewise, besides our continent, Jambū-dvīpa, there are three other continents in the cardinal directions, a central mountain named Meru or Sumeru, seven surrounding rings of mountains, seven intervening oceans, etc. From the fact that most of the inhabitants of our world-system are invisible to us, it would logically follow that most of the receptacle world would also be invisible to us. But this, too, is not stated; and the continents and mountains and oceans have usually been understood as features of our visible world. The discrepancies between what is described and what physically exists have caused many modern Buddhists to reject the Abhidharma teachings on cosmology.

The description of the receptacle world, the bhājana-loka, starts with verse 45 of chapter 3. It is here that we find what little cosmogony is given. Vasubandhu’s description given in his commentary begins at the bottom (adhas) of the receptacle world with the vāyu-maṇḍala, the “circle of wind,” saying that this is situated in or supported on space (ākāśa-pratiṣṭha), and came into manifestation (abhinirvṛtta) as a result of the karma or actions of living beings (sattva).

ākāśa-pratiṣṭham adhastād vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvṛttaṃ sarva-sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 1-2; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 6-7)1

“Below, supported in or on space, the circle of wind came into manifestation through the power of the actions (karma) of all living beings.”

The karma that had been latent during the period of twenty intermediate eons (antara-kalpa), when the cosmos was out of manifestation, now brings about the manifestation of the circle of wind. Despite the name “wind” (vāyu), this circle or disk (maṇḍala) is described as being “solid” (dṛḍha). We are given no details as to how the circle of wind or vāyu-maṇḍala arises, which forms the base and basis of the receptacle world. The first half of the next verse, 46ab, brings in the circle of water. Vasubandhu in his commentary explains what happens.

tasmin vāyu-maṇḍale sattvānāṃ karmabhir meghāḥ saṃbhūyākṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti | tat bhavaty apāṃ maṇḍalam | . . . tāś ca punar āpaḥ sattvānāṃ karma-prabhāva-saṃbhūtair vāyubhir āvarttyamānā upariṣṭāt kāñcanī-bhavanti pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 6-11 or 6-12; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 11-19)2

“Clouds, having arisen through the actions (karma) of living beings, rain on this circle of wind in streams the size of a pole. This becomes the circle of water. . . . Then these waters, being set into circular motion by the winds arisen through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, become gold on top, like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”

Two things here require comment. First, what is the strange-sounding rain in streams the size of a pole? We don’t know for sure, and possibly neither did the commentators. This is perhaps rain so heavy that it comes down in continuous streams rather than in drops. Earlier in this chapter, commenting on verse 3, Vasubandhu quotes a sūtra that says: īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām,3 “When the god Īṣādhāra rains there is no break or gap in the streams of water falling from the sky.” Now in English we say, “it is raining,” without ever specifying what “it” is that is raining. In Sanskrit they often say, “the gods rain,” or a particular god rains, as we have here. The sub-commentator Yaśomitra explains that Īṣādhāra means: īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ,4 whose “streams of rain are the measure of a pole.” Elsewhere another relevant sūtra is quoted, as noted by Poussin, this one in the Śikṣā-samuccaya by Śāntideva. I give the Sanskrit, from chapter 14, followed by my translation:

vivartamāne khalu punar loke samantād dvātriṃśat-paṭalā abhra-ghanāḥ saṃtiṣṭhante | saṃsthāya sarvāvantaḥ tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ chādayanti | yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati | (Skt., Bendall ed., p. 247, lines 5-7, Vaidya ed., p. 132, lines 16-18; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1335, line 19, to p. 1336, line 3)5

“Then, when the world is coming into manifestation, thirty-two masses of thick clouds gather from all sides. Having gathered, they cover the entire triple-thousand-great-thousand world-system. From them, the god Īṣādhāra rains for five intermediate eons.”

After that three other gods also rain for five intermediate eons each. Altogether the rains occur for twenty intermediate eons, constituting the larger eon of formation.

The other thing here requiring comment is the last phrase, where these waters become gold on top, “like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”6 There is a small error in the French translation here, that only got worse in the two English translations. Poussin has, “comme le lait cuit devient de al crème,” literally, “like cooked milk becomes cream.” The small error is the word “crème,” meaning “cream.” While the Sanskrit word śara can mean “cream,” this is not the meaning intended here. Cooked milk does not become cream, but a skin or film or scum does form on it. Pruden, perhaps seeing this problem and trying to address it, introduced a second error in his 1988 English translation: “as churned milk becomes cream.” However, the French word “cuit” means “cooked,” not “churned.” Then, Sangpo in his 2012 English translation apparently followed Pruden in this, giving: “in the way that churned milk becomes cream.” The original Sanskrit word pakva means “cooked,” as does the Tibetan translation bskol ba. The analogy given here is not to cream, which rises to the top without the milk being cooked (or churned, which produces butter, not cream). The analogy is to the forming of a crust on the surface of the water like the forming of a skin or film or scum on milk that is cooked. The parallel text in the Saṅghabhedavastu makes this even clearer, by adding that the cooked milk “has become cool” (śītī-bhūta) when this occurs.

tena khalu samayeneyaṃ mahāpṛthivī ekodakā bhavaty ekārṇavā | yaḥ khalu [ekodakāyā] mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti tadyathā payasaḥ pakvasya śītībhūtasya upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | evam ekodakāyā mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | (Skt., Gnoli ed., p. 7, lines 18-23; Tib., collated Kangyur, vol. 3, p. 620, lines 9-15)7

“At that time this great earth was only water, a single ocean. On top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across, just like, on top of cooked milk that has become cool, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across. In this way, on top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across.”

After several verses giving descriptions of the mountains and continents and seas and hells and their measures, we come to the next snippet that is apparently on cosmogony (bhāṣya on verse 59cd). For we read in both English translations of “the winds which create (nirmā) the moon, the sun and the stars” (matching the French, “des vents qui créent (nirmā) . . . la lune, le soleil et les étoiles”). When we read the Sanskrit, however, this is not what we find. Poussin notes here that the two Chinese translations, by Paramārtha and by Hiuan-tsang (Hsüan-tsang, Xuanzang), differ; perhaps meaning that he here followed the Tibetan translation. Unfortunately, the Tibetan translation that he used, the Peking edition or the Narthang edition, has a serious misprint here that misled him. The Peking and Narthang editions have ’phrul ba here, rather than the correct ’phul ba as in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions. With his wide linguistic knowledge acquired by comparing many Sanskrit texts with their Tibetan translations, acquired without the benefit of the Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries that we now have, he knew that the Tibetan ’phrul ba often translates the Sanskrit nirmā, meaning “create” (i.e., the prefix nir plus the root , making words such as nirmāṇa and nirmita). But, as he could not know, this is only a typographical error.

That the correct Tibetan word here is ’phul ba would now be a simple matter to verify by comparison with the original Sanskrit text that was discovered, except that the sole known manuscript has a corruption at this very place. The learned editor, P. Pradhan, corrects the unintelligible vocāraḥ of the manuscript to vordhvacāraḥ, which means, “or the going upward.” However, this does not match the normally literal Tibetan translation, ’phul bar byed pa (nor does it match the erroneous reading, ’phrul bar byed pa). So we do not know what the original Sanskrit term is. Nor is it found in the Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra, or in the fragmentary Sanskrit Abhidharmadīpa, which is missing most of this chapter. It took the more clearly worded version in the Tibetan translation of the important but neglected commentary by Saṅghabhadra to verify this.8 In this version, ’phul ba is the main verb, rather than a verbal in a dependent clause like in Vasubandhu’s commentary; and in all four editions this text has ’phul (not ’phrul).9

The Tibetan-English Dictionary by Sarat Chandra Das gives as the second meaning for ’phul ba, “to press, to drive, to push.” But we must verify that this meaning is found in canonical Tibetan. The Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary by J. S. Negi (vol. 8, 2002, p. 3653) shows that ’phul ba translates the Sanskrit nutta in the famous Sanskrit lexicon, the Amarakośa. The word nutta, a past passive participle from the verb-root nud, is defined in Liṅgayasūrin’s commentary thereon as nudyate, preryate, i.e., “is pushed or driven, is impelled.” Thus, ’phul ba in this canonical text does mean “to drive,” and is the correct word here rather than ’phrul ba, “to create.” Thanks especially to the Tibetan translation of the commentary by Saṅghabhadra, we are now in a position to accurately translate this Sanskrit passage (3.59cd), despite the corrupt word(s) at the end of it.

athemau candrārkau kasmin pratiṣṭhitau | vāyau | vāyavo ’ntarīkṣe sarva-sattva-sādhāraṇa-karmādhipatya-nirvṛttā āvartavat sumeruṃ parivartante | candrārka-tārāṇāṃ vordhva-cāraḥ ? (ms. vocāraḥ) | (Skt., p. 165, lines 10-11 or 12-14; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14)

“Now, on what are these two, the moon and the sun, supported? On the wind. The winds in space, originated through the power of the general karma of all living beings, revolve around Sumeru like a whirlpool, driving the moon, the sun, and the stars.”

So this passage does not say that the winds create the moon, the sun, and the stars, but rather that the winds drive them in their circular orbits. We may here recall Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, śloka 1: “The Primordial Seven, the first seven Breaths of the Dragon of Wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating Breaths the Fiery Whirlwind.” The verb used with winds is parivartante, which I have translated as “revolve around,” but it could just as well be translated as “circumgyrate.”

The sun and the moon, or at least their underlying crystal disks, are in fact said a few lines later to be created or brought into manifestation by the karma of living beings. We see again and again in these cosmogonic passages that karma is the creator of the cosmos, not God as in many other creation stories.10 In the Yogācārabhūmi (Skt., p. 43, lines 2-3) the sun disk is said to be made of fire-crystal, sūrya-maṇḍalaṃ tejaḥ-sphaṭika-mayam, and the moon disk is said to be made of water-crystal, candra-maṇḍalaṃ udaka-sphaṭika-mayam. Here in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (3.60b), a fiery (taijasam) crystal disk (sphaṭika-maṇḍalam) is said to be below the celestial palace (vimāna) of the sun, and a watery (āpyam) crystal disk is said to be below the celestial palace of the moon.

sūrya-vimānasyādhastāt bahiḥ sphaṭika-maṇḍalaṃ taijasam abhinirvṛttaṃ tāpanaṃ prakāśanaṃ ca | candra-vimānasyādhastād āpyaṃ śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca | prāṇināṃ karmabhir | (Skt., p. 165, lines 18-19 or 20-22; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, line 20, to p. 366, line 2)

“Outside, below the celestial palace of the sun, through the actions (karma) of living beings a fiery crystal disk came into manifestation, heating and illumining. Below the celestial palace of the moon, a watery [crystal disk came into manifestation], cold and radiant.”

We notice in this passage an unusual and curious phrase that is also found in the Dzyan commentary and catechism, “cold and radiant” (śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca). It seems contradictory for something to be both cold and radiant at the same time, since radiance is normally associated with heat. The “Occult Catechism” uses this phrase in reference to the “Breath which is eternal,” as follows (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 12): “It expands and contracts [exhalation and inhalation]. When it expands the mother diffuses and scatters; when it contracts, the mother draws back and ingathers. This produces the periods of Evolution and Dissolution, Manvantara and Pralaya. The Germ is invisible and fiery; the Root [the plane of the circle] is cool; but during Evolution and Manvantara her garment is cold and radiant.” Then, the “Commentary” on Book of Dzyan, stanza 6, śloka 4, says (S.D., vol. 1, p. 144): “The Breath of the Father-Mother issues cold and radiant and gets hot and corrupt, to cool once more, and be purified in the eternal bosom of inner Space.”

The most connected account of cosmogony found in the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, although still very brief, occurs when the kinds of eons (kalpa) are described. The eon of the coming into manifestation (vivarta-kalpa) of the cosmos is described in verse 90cd and the commentary (bhāṣya) thereon. In the early Buddhist cosmogony accounts, which are well restated here, the genesis of the cosmos begins with the primordial wind.

3.90cd: vivarta-kalpaḥ prāg-vāyor yāvan naraka-saṃbhavaḥ ||

prathamād vāyoḥ prabhṛti yāvan narakeṣu sattva-sambhavaḥ eṣa kālo vivarta-kalpa ity ucyate | tathā saṃvṛtte hi loka ākāśa-mātrāvaśeṣaś ciraṃ kālaṃ tiṣṭhati yāvat punar api sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena bhājanānāṃ pūrva-nimitta-bhūtā ākāśe manda-mandā vāyavaḥ syandante | tadā yad ayaṃ loko viṃśatim antara-kalpān saṃvṛtto ’sthāt tan niryātaṃ vaktavyam | yad viṃśatim antara-kalpān vivarttiṣyate tad upayātaṃ vaktavyam | tatas te vāyavo vardhamānā yathoktaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalaṃ jāyate | tataḥ śanair yathokta-krama-vidhānaṃ sarvaṃ jāyate ap-maṇḍalaṃ kāñcanamayī mahā-pṛthivī dvīpāḥ sumerv-ādayaś ca | prathamaṃ tu brāhma-vimānam utpadyate | tato yāvat yāmīyaṃ tato vāyu-maṇḍalādīni | iyatā’yaṃ loko vivṛtto bhavati yad uta bhājana-vivartanyā | (Skt., p. 179; Tib., vol. 79, p. 385, line 20, to p. 386, line 13)

“The eon of coming into manifestation extends from the primordial wind to birth in the hells.”

“This time beginning from the first wind up to the birth of living beings in the hells is called the eon of coming into manifestation. So, [as already described,] when the world has gone out of manifestation, what remains is only space (ākāśa). [This situation] lasts for a long time; until once again, through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, very light winds that are the preceding heralds of the receptacle [worlds] arise in space. At that time, this world has remained out of manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as finished. [It] will come into manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as started. Then, those winds increasing, the circle of wind arises as stated. Then gradually, in the sequence and manner as stated, all arises, the circle of water, the great earth made of gold, the continents, and Sumeru, etc. But first the celestial palace of Brahmā is generated, then down to that of the Yāma [gods], then the circle of wind, etc. This world becomes manifested to this extent, namely, the manifestation of the receptacle [world].”

Such is the classical Buddhist cosmogony.



1. I quote from the Sanskrit edition by P. Pradhan, Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, giving page and line numbers from the 1967 first edition (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”) followed by line numbers from the 1975 second edition when different. It is also necessary to compare the Tibetan translation, which provides, in effect, a word by word gloss. For this I use the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, which gives the text as found in the Der-ge edition and variant readings from the Peking, Narthang, and Co-ne editions. Our texts are found in vol. 79, 2001. Sometimes, like here, I have corrected the placement of the daṇḍa in the Sanskrit according to the Tibetan translation. My fairly literal translation of the Sanskrit, made in comparison with the Tibetan, then follows.

2. For the phrase, akṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa (Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 12; the Peking and Narthang editions have the insignificant variant reading bab for ’bab). The Tibetan term gnya’ shing tsam usually translates the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra.

3. For this sentence, īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa na bar snang las chu’i rgyun ’bab pa rnams kyi mtshams sam bar med (Skt., p. 113, lines 23-24 or 25-27; Tib., vol. 79, p. 274, lines 1-2; also repeated in Yogācārabhūmi, Skt., p. 44, lines 10-11).

Akira Hirakawa in his very valuable word-index to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (posted here in the “Sanskrit texts” section) in this case erroneously (or at least incompletely) gives char gyi rgyun for the cloud or god īṣādhāra. As the Tibetan translations of the passages quoted here show, this should be gnya’ shing tsam. However, with deva, the whole phrase is translated as char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam. In this case, deva is not translated as lha, like it usually is in Tibetan. The whole phrase is somewhat paraphrased, making it hard to know exactly what translates what. But in Yaśomitra’s gloss (see note 4 below), īṣādhāra is clearly just gnya’ shing tsam.

4. For this definition, īṣādhāra iti īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ, the Tibetan translation is, gnya’ shing tsam zhes bya ba ni char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing gi tshad tsam ni gnya’ shing tsam mo (Skt., Wogihara ed., vol. 1, p. 259, Dwarikadas ed., vol. 2, p. 388; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 80, p. 583, lines 2-3, variant reading in Peking and Narthang editions: gyis, in char gyi rgyun).

5. For the last sentence, yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati, the Tibetan translation is, de las bskal pa bar ma lnga’i bar du gshol mda’ tsam gyi char gyi rgyun ’bab po (Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1336, lines 2-3, variant reading in the Peking and Narthang editions: tsam gyis char for tsam gyi char). Here we have gshol mda’ tsam rather than gnya’ shing tsam for īṣādhāra, although the meaning is the same. Note that there is also a mountain named īṣādhāra, which is translated into Tibetan as gshol mda’ ’dzin, “bearing a pole” (such as the pole of a plough). The spellings of the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra, whether of the god as a raincloud or of the mountain, vary. The first part may be found as either īṣā or īśā, although this probably is due primarily to the meaningless interchanging of the sibilants that is common in Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The standard spelling of this word is īṣā. It means a “pole” or “shaft,” as in the pole of a carriage or a plough. In the Loka-prajñapti we find this as shing rta’i srog shing, the axle of a carriage (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, lines 15-16). The second part may be found as either dhāra or dhara. Here the meaning differs. While dhāra can mean the same as dhara, namely, “holding, bearing,” it also means “streaming, flowing,” and as a noun can refer to a downpour of rain. Its feminine form dhārā means a “stream” of something such as water. By contrast, dhara keeps more to its basic meaning, “holding, bearing,” and as a noun can mean a “mountain.” Its feminine form dharā means the “earth.” So according to the meaning, the god as a raincloud should be spelled īṣādhāra, while the mountain should be spelled īṣādhara.

The Śikṣā-samuccaya was long ago translated into English by Cecil Bendall and W. H. D. Rouse, with the additional help of Louis de la Vallée Poussin, before we had the resources that are now available. This 1922 translation was carefully done, and is very helpful to refer to for the general meaning. For precise meanings, however, it cannot be relied on, as shown by the advances of current scholarship in knowledge of Buddhist terms and ideas. A few lines after the passage that I have newly translated above, for example, this older translation refers to “when this world arises” (p. 229). The text goes on to speak of the appearance of seven suns. This occurs prior to the dissolution of the cosmos, and the phrase “when the world arises” must be translated as “when the world is destroyed.” The verb here is saṃvartate (Skt. ed., p. 247, line 10), which is opposite of vivarta. This Buddhist usage caused problems for others as well. Franklin Edgerton notes in his 1953 Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary under vivarta (p. 499) that the Pali-English Dictionary published by the Pali Text Society (1921-1925) precisely inverts the meanings of the corresponding Pali vivaṭṭa and saṃvaṭṭa. J. J. Jones had made a similar observation in his translation of the Mahāvastu, vol. 1, 1949, p. 43 fn. 3.

In the passage that I translated above, the word sarvāvantaḥ is clearly taken in the Tibetan translation with tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ, not with the banks of clouds as its declension would indicate. The meaning also would require taking it with the world system (loka-dhātuṃ). So I have translated it accordingly. Here we also have another example of a word whose meaning in Buddhist Sanskrit was not known to the translators Bendall and Rouse. They take it in the standard Sanskrit meaning, translating it as “containing everything” (and construing it with the “palls of cloud”), while in Buddhist Sanskrit it means “entire.”

6. For this phrase, pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena, the Tibetan translation is, ’o ma bskol ba spris ma chags pa’i tshul du (Skt. reading kṣīra, as in Yaśomitra’s vyākhyā, rather than kṣīrī, as in the sole extant manuscript of the bhāṣya; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 19).

7. For a link to the relevant portion of the Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu, see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi.” The whole text is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts.” Among the eight collated editions of the Kangyur, seven have grangs pa for śītī-bhūta, while the Zhol or Lhasa edition corrected this to grang ba, “cool, cold,” to avoid confusion with grangs, “number, enumeration.” The parallel text in the Pali Aggañña-sutta also has a word for “cooling” here, nibbāyamānassa. Likewise in the Tibetan translation of the Loka-prajñapti there is a word for “cooling” here, bsgrangs pa (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, line 21).

8. While checking for something else I happened to notice that the opening few pages of Saṅghabhadra’s commentary, also called a bhāṣya, matched Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya almost verbatim. Wondering about this, I then saw that the author’s name, ’Dus bzang, is the Tibetan translation of Saṅghabhadra. Saṅghabhadra is thought in Tibetan tradition to have been Vasubandhu’s teacher, who liked his Abhidharmakośa because it gave the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika (Sarvāstivāda) school so well, but disliked portions of his commentary (bhāṣya) thereon in which Vasubandhu criticized some of the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika school. So Saṅghabhadra wrote two extensive critiques of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya. These are now extant only in Chinese translation. I then checked Collett Cox’s introduction to her translation of a portion of one of these, the Nyāyānusāra (Disputed Dharmas: Early Buddhist Theories on Existence, Tokyo, 1995), to see if there is any tradition of him writing what we have here: a shorter version of the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, wherein presumably the offensive passages were removed by him.

She says about this commentary, which is only extant in its Tibetan translation (p. 59): “Though initially assumed to be Saṅghabhadra’s shorter work, this Tibetan commentary would appear to be simply a brief summary of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośakārikā and Bhāṣya.” A note thereon (note 31, p. 62) sources this to a personal communication from Alex Wayman, a scholar of Tibetan (Collett Cox is a scholar of Chinese). The late Alex Wayman was not a scholar of Abhidharma, and it would seem that he did little more than glance at this Tibetan text. I next checked the 1998 book, Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. The relevant portion of this book is by Collett Cox, and simply repeats (p. 243 fn. 308) what she wrote in her 1995 book. There is nothing more about this text here.

After that I checked the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 9: Buddhist Philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D. Here we do not find this book under Saṅghabhadra’s name, but rather under Vinītabhadra (p. 370, see also p. 281). This is a Sanskrit re-translation of the Tibetan ’Dul bzang, almost certainly a typographical error for ’Dus bzang, that is found in the Peking and Narthang editions of the Tengyur. The correct ’Dus bzang is found in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions (see the collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1366, where ’Dus bzang is given in the colophon of this text, and the relevant note on p. 1405 gives the variant reading ’Dul bzang from the Peking and Narthang editions). This Encyclopedia was published in 2003, while the Tohoku Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons, cataloging the Der-ge (sde dge) edition and so giving the correct ’Dus bzang (no. 4091, p. 622), was published in 1934. The authorship of this text really should have been corrected in this Encyclopedia.

This Encyclopedia’s brief entry gives us little more than what Wayman gave us. After saying that “The original Sanskrit is lost; what survives is the Tibetan translation,” and giving the reference to the Peking edition, it tell us only: “This is a simple rehash of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, which shortens Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika objections to the Vaibhāṣika system, and, aside from the invocatory verses, adds absolutely nothing new.” It is not necessarily the case that readers are seeking something new. The need for a shorter presentation of Abhidharma than is given in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya has long been felt. Readers get bogged down in the various positions presented there, which often lead to establishing the Sautrāntika position against the Vaibhāṣika position. This commentary is approximately half the size of Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya (434 pp. versus 794 pp. in the collated Tengyur), yet it retains all the material that the Abhidharmakośa was originally written to present; namely, the Abhidharma system as understood by the Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣikas of Kashmir.

We finally get some real information about this commentary in Marek Major’s 1991 book, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa and the Commentaries Preserved in the Tanjur, pp. 29-38, and this book was even referred to in a footnote to the Encyclopedia entry. It is unfortunate that what Marek Major found has not yet been assimilated by Buddhist scholars, and that this important commentary has remained neglected. There is no real reason to doubt that what we have here is by Saṅghabhadra, a contemporary of Vasubandhu (probably not his teacher as the Tibetan tradition holds, since the older Chinese tradition does not say this). Even if, as Marek Major hypothesizes, Saṅghabhadra’s text was abridged by the Tibetan translator (or perhaps by some earlier Indian writer), this does not take away its value. It closely follows Vasubandhu’s text, leaving out only what many think is non-essential. In the particular case at hand, it seems that while preserving what was in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya, this commentary only slightly reworded it in order to make it clearer.

9. Saṅghabhadra’s commentary has: gang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di gnyis ci la gnas she na | rlung la ste sems can thams cad las kyi dbang gis ’byung ba’i rlung gling bzhi [var. bzhin du, Pek. Nar.] ri rab yongs su ’khor zhing nyi ma dang zla ba dang skar ma rnams ’phul lo | (collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1067, lines 7-9). Vasubandhu’s commentary has: yang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di dag ci la brten zhe na | rlung la ste | sems can thams cad kyi thun mong gi las kyi dbang gis bar snang la nyi ma dang | zla ba dang | skar ma rnams ’phul [var. ’phrul, Pek. Nar.] bar byed pa’i rlung dag grub ste | ri rab la rlung gi ’khor lo bzhin du ’khor ro | (vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14). As may be seen, Saṅghabhadra made ’phul the primary verb and ’khor the verb of the dependent clause, while Vasubandhu made ’phul the verb of the dependent clause, and ’khor the primary verb.

10. Buddhism, of course, does not accept the existence of a creator God, but on the contrary denies the existence of such a being. Like in Jainism and in the original Nyāya school of logic in Hinduism, the law of karma reigns supreme. There can be no God who is able to override or interfere with it. The universe is without beginning, and any new cosmos would be the result of the collective karma of the living beings of the previous cosmos. On the absence of God in the original Nyāya school in Hinduism, see my article, “God’s Arrival in India” (at www.easterntradition.org).

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) new edition

By David Reigle on November 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm

A new edition of the Tibetan language collected writings (gsung ’bum) of Dolpopa was published in 13 volumes in 2011, although it does not seem to have become available until 2013. It was published in China in western style book format (paperbound). Dolpopa’s collected writings first became available to the world in 1992 with the publication of The ’Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works (gsung ’bum) of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-mtshan, collected and presented by Matthew Kapstein (Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992, 7 volumes in 10). This first publication was a reproduction of a print of a set of manuscripts in dbu med (cursive or “headless”) script. Several years later a blockprint ’Dzam-thang edition was published in 8 volumes, in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script. The new edition is also in dbu can script, and is newly typeset. It is therefore easier to read; and since it is an edition rather than a reproduction, it has eliminated most typographical errors.

In its arrangement it is based on the ’Dzam-thang editions, which are the only extant collections. It includes all of Dolpopa’s texts found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, plus some new texts that are not found in those editions (these comprise vol. 13). As for the editing of its texts, roughly half of them are taken from the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition as the only source. The other roughly half of its texts are based primarily on newly available sources, supplemented by the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition. These are mostly from the major find of rare Tibetan texts long hidden away in private libraries at Drepung Monastery (see the posts on “Rare Tibetan Texts” at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center website: http://about.tbrc.org/tag/drepung/). In particular, almost all of them are from the Nechu (gnas bcu) temple at Drepung Monastery.

Its contents are, very briefly:

vol. 1: biography of Dolpopa, including past lives;

vol. 2: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 3: commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra, plus three shorter works, including an annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra;

vol. 4: commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, plus one shorter work;

vol. 5: commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 100,000 lines;

vol. 6: commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 and in 18,000 lines, plus six shorter works;

vol. 7: bKa’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po, the “Fourth Council,” its commentary, its summary, and twenty other works;

vol. 8: dPon byang pa’i phyag tu phul ba’i chos kyi shan ’byed, “Analysis of Dharma for the Ruler of Jang,” and five other works;

vol. 9: short Kālacakra works, etc., thirty in all;

vol. 10: Kālacakra sādhana (full), and ten other works;

vol. 11: thirty-eight short miscellaneous texts, many of which are supplications (gsol ’debs), including the bsTan pa spyi ’grel, “General Commentary on the Doctrine”;

vol. 12: seventy-four short miscellaneous texts, including advice or instruction (gdams pa), replies to queries (zhus lan), songs of praise (bstod pa), aspirational prayers (smon lam), etc.;

vol. 13: annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, and eleven shorter works.

As may be seen, it does not include his annotated editions of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary, which still remain lost.

Here are the particulars. The title of this set is: Jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ’bum. It was compiled and edited by the Paltsek institute in Lhasa: dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang (approximately, “Pal-tsek Old Tibetan Books Research Institute”), and published in 13 vols. in their series, Mes po’i shul bzhag (something like, “Legacy of the Forefathers”), vols. 196208. It was published by the China Tibetology Publishing House in Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011, ISBN 978-7-80253-437-7. Prior to this the collected writings of the later Jonang writer Tāranātha were published in 45 volumes in this same series, vols. 43-87, 2008.

It may be noted that we also have newly typeset editions in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script of three of Dolpopa’s major works in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 1-3, 2007. These are:

vol. 1: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 2: rGyud bla’i ṭīkka, commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra (this volume also includes his annotated edition of the Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon);

vol. 3: Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra (the short title given on the cover and spine, Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, could cause confusion with his commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtras, until one refers to the full title given on the title page, Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan gyi rnam bshad mdo’i don bde blag tu rtogs pa).

Moreover, we have newly typeset editions in dbu can script of the annotated editions by Chogle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal) of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 17-20, 2008. His annotations no doubt include much from Dolpopa, his teacher. We also have Chogle Namgyal’s full Kālacakra sādhana. It is included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 23 (2010), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan ’gyur dkar chag (from which one would not know that this volume includes his full Kālacakra sādhana, although it is added on the title page, dang dus ’khor sgrub thabs). It will be interesting to compare this in detail with Dolpopa’s full Kālacakra sādhana. Likewise, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra may be compared with the commentary on this text by his disciple Tshal Minpa Sonam Zangpo (mtshal min pa bsod nams bzang po). This commentary was included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 11 (2008), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, ’Dul ba bdud rtsi’i nying khu (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Dharmadhātu-stotra, and indicated on the title page only by the word sogs, “etc.”).

Maitreya’s Uttaratantra or Ratnagotravibhāga was much commented on in Tibet, and was especially favored by the Jonangpas. Besides Dolpopa’s commentary, five other commentaries on it have been published in the Jonang Publication Series. In volume 31 (2010) is the early commentary on it by Rinchen Yeshe (rin chen ye shes), from whom Dolpopa received the five books of Maitreya, according to Tāranātha. In volume 31 is also the later commentary on it by Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje). Volume 13 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Sazang Mati Panchen (sa bzang mati paṇ chen blo gros rgyal mtshan). Volume 15 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Zhangton Sonam Drakpa (zhang ston bsod nams grags pa). In volume 30 (2010) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Gharungpa Lhai Gyaltsen (gha rung pa lha’i rgyal mtshan). This volume has the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan pa spyi ’grel gyi ’grel ba (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Uttaratantra, although it is added on the title page, dang theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa). No doubt these three commentaries by Dolpopa’s disciples include some of his teachings on the Uttaratantra.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 1 comment


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi

By David Reigle on October 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

The Yogācārabhūmi is a massive sourcebook of the Buddhist Yogācāra school. In the second section of this book, titled manobhūmi, occurs an account of cosmology that includes cosmogony. It is similar to, but more detailed than, the standard Buddhist Abhidharma account of cosmology given in the Abhidharmakośa (chapter 3). The Sanskrit original of the Yogācārabhūmi was discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by the indefatigable Rahula Sankrityayana, and was both transcribed and photographed by him. Its first five sections were edited from this transcript and these photographs by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, in comparison with the Tibetan translation (Narthang edition), and published in 1957 (I have posted this here: yogacarabhumi_chapters_1-5_1957.pdf). Very little of the Yogācārabhūmi has so far been published in English translation. We are fortunate to have a translation of its account of cosmology, made by the late Yūichi Kajiyama and published in 2000 (posted here: Buddhist cosmology, Yogacarabhumi, Eng. 2000). This translation was competently made from the Sanskrit in comparison with the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Paragraphs pertaining to cosmogony have been selected from this account of cosmology and given below, the Sanskrit from Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition, and the English from Yūichi Kajiyama’s translation. The brackets are theirs. Also given below for comparison are page references to the Tibetan translation found in the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, vol. 72, 2001.

When the world is regenerated after its periodic destruction by wind (more extensive than by fire or by water), beings from the fourth or highest dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the third dhyāna heaven. Then beings from the third dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the second dhyāna heaven; and beings from the second dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the first or lowest dhyāna heaven. At this point our account continues (Sanskrit, p. 37, line 12; Tibetan, p. 712, line 18; English, p. 191):

tataḥ paścād iha tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra-[loka-dhātu]-pramāṇaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvartate tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasrasya [lokasya] pratiṣṭhā-bhūtam avaimānikānāṃ sattvānāṃ [ca] | tat punar dvi-vidham | uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca | yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?) | tatas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyena kāñcana-garbhā meghāḥ sambhavanti | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpo vāyu-maṇḍale santiṣṭhante | tato vāyavaḥ sambhūyāpaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti | sā bhavati kāñcanamayī pṛthivy ūrdhvañ cādhaś codaka-vimarda-kṣamatvāt || tasyāṃ vivṛttāyāṃ punas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyād eva nānā-dhātu-garbho meghaḥ sambhavati | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpaḥ kāñcanamayyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ santiṣṭhante | tathaiva ca punar vāyavaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti |

“Thereafter a whirlwind as large as the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] arises here and becomes the support of the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] as well as of sentient beings having no palaces [i.e., gods of the two lowest worlds of desire and sentient beings on and under the earth]. It is of two kinds: the whirlwind stretching itself upwards and that stretching itself on the flank of the world, which prevent water [on the wind] from leaking out downwards and sideways. And then clouds containing gold appear above these [whirlwinds] by the influence of [sentient beings’] karma. Rains fall from the [clouds]. The water [of the rains] is sustained on the whirlwind. Then, wind blows and condenses and hardens the water. It is called the earth made of gold as it withstands upward and downward agitations of water. When the [earth] is regenerated, clouds containing various kinds of elements are produced above the earth by virtue of the influence of karma [made by sentient beings]. Rains fall from the clouds, and the water stays on the golden earth. Again, in the same way [as above] wind condenses and hardens [the water].”

The account goes on to say that the best elements produce Mount Sumeru, the middle class elements produce the seven mountain ranges that surround Mount Sumeru, and the inferior elements produce the four great continents, the eight mid-islands, and the surrounding Cakravāḍa Mountain. So we see that the wind hardens the water containing the various elements. Compare Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, śloka 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” The so far unidentified fohat is described in stanza 6, śloka 1, as “the breath of their progeny,” and stanza 5, śloka 1, tells us that: “The primordial seven, the first seven breaths of the dragon of wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating breaths the fiery whirlwind,” i.e., fohat. So in the Book of Dzyan it is fohat, the breath, the fiery whirlwind, that hardens the atoms. It should be noted that Kajiyama’s “whirlwind” translates vāyu-maṇḍala, which is often translated elsewhere as “wind circle,” or “wind disk.”

After further descriptions of the continents, the mountain ranges, the oceans, etc., the Yogācārabhūmi account proceeds to the topic of the origin of humanity, or anthropogenesis (Sanskrit, p. 41, line 17; Tibetan, p. 717, line 11; English, p. 196):

evam abhinirvṛtte bhājana-loka ābhāsvarād deva-nikāyāt sattvāś cyutvehotpadyante | pūrvavad eva prathama-kalpa-saṃvedanīyena karmaṇā | tac ca param agryaṃ śreṣṭhaṃ kāmāvacaraṃ karma | tadaiva ca tasya karmaṇaḥ phalābhinirvṛttir nānyadā | te ca sattvās tasmin samaye prathama-kalpakā ity ucyante | te ca bhavanti rūpiṇo manomayā ity anusūtram eva sarvaṃ |  

“When the material world (bhājanaloka) has been accomplished in this way, beings among the heavenly class of Ābhāsvara die there and are born here [in this world], as stated before, because of their karma which should be recognized as leading to (saṃvedanīya), the first kalpa [of the regeneration of the world]. It is the superior, first, excellent karma belonging to the world of desire (kāmāvacara), and the karma completes its effect only at this time [when the world is regenerated], and not at other times. And those sentient beings in this very time are called ‘belonging to the first kalpa’ (prathamakalpaka). They have beautiful forms and are ‘made of will’ (manomaya). All of this is described according to Buddhist sūtras.”

The beings of the first kalpa, or age, are given in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya by Vasubandhu (chapter 3, verses 8-9) as examples of humans (manuṣya) who are self-born or parentless or spontaneously generated (upapāduka). Buddhaghosa says the same in his Pali commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya, using Pali opapātika in place of Sanskrit upapāduka (Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, p. 82 fn. 1). This is the first root-race described in The Secret Doctrine. The Mahāvastu (see below) tells us that: “These beings are self-luminous, move through space, are made of mind [manomaya], feed on joy, abide in a state of bliss, and go wherever they wish.” (J. J. Jones translation, vol. 1, p. 285). In the next paragraph, the Yogācārabhūmi account shows the first appearance of food. We take up where the sentient beings of that time begin to eat it, by which they lose their spiritual powers and their bodies become more dense (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 5; Tibetan, p. 718, line 3; English, p. 196).

tatas te sattvās tat-parigrahe sandṛśyante | tatas teṣāṃ sattvānāṃ rasādi-paribhogād daurvarṇyaṃ prādurbhavati | prabhāvaś cāntardhīyate | yaś ca prabhūtataraṃ bhuṅkte sa durvarṇataro bhavati guruka-kāyataraḥ |

“Thereupon those sentient beings are seen seizing [these foods]. Then, due to their consumption of [earth] nectar and the rest, those sentient beings become ugly (daurvarṇya), and their supernatural powers disappear. The more one eats, the uglier he becomes, and the heavier his body gets.”

This brings us through the period of the second root-race described in The Secret Doctrine, and into the third root-race. In the middle of the third root-race occurs the separation of the sexes. The Yogācārabhūmi account now describes this (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 9; Tibetan, p. 718, line 10; English, p. 196).

tato ’nyonyaṃ cakṣuṣā cakṣur upanidhyāya prekṣante | tataḥ saṃrajyante | tataḥ strī-puruṣa- saṃvartanīyena karmaṇaikatyānāṃ strīndriyaṃ prādurbhavati ekatyānāṃ puruṣendriyaṃ | tato vipratipadyete dvaya-dvaya-samāpattitaḥ |

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

After this, says the Yogācārabhūmi account, the idea of possession or ownership arises, with the result that theft and fighting begin. Then arises the need to establish a king to help prevent these things, and the need to allot different tasks to different people, which results in the establishment of the four castes. This brings us up to the present. From the time of the separation of the sexes onward, the mode of birth for humans would be what we know today, birth from a womb. Of the four modes of birth for humans described in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya (chapter 3, verses 8-9), we have now seen two: the womb-born (jarāyuja) as at present, and the spontaneously generated (upapāduka) as in the first kalpa or age. For the sweat-born (sasvedaja) and the egg-born (aṇḍaja), Vasubandhu’s Bhāṣya gives examples from mythology. No extant Buddhist text that I know of places these in the earlier humanities, as does The Secret Doctrine, after the appearance of food when their bodies lose their spiritual powers and become denser.

The Yogācārabhūmi is attributed to Maitreya by Chinese tradition, and is attributed to Asaṅga by Tibetan tradition, although in both traditions Maitreya taught Asaṅga. Modern scholarship sees the Yogācārabhūmi as a composite text, having various strata, some of which are quite old. Other early Buddhist texts pertaining to cosmology and cosmogony and anthropogenesis may give some portions more briefly and some portions more extensively. The Loka-prajñapti, an early Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text, gives the appearance of food and what followed upon this more extensively. Although a number of leaves of the Lokaprajñapti in the original Sanskrit have been discovered, its cosmogony portion is not among these (see: Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” attached as:Lokaprajnapti, Survey on Sanskrit Fragments, Dietz 1989). On the basis of the Tibetan translation (Peking edition attached: Lokaprajnapti, Tibetan, Peking edition), however, Siglinde Deitz found that the cosmogony and anthropogenesis account that begins the Saṅgha-bheda-vastu of the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya corresponds closely to that of the Lokaprajñapti. We have a good Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu prepared by Raniero Gnoli and T. Venkatacharya (2 vols., 1977, 1978; relevant portion, pp. 7-16, attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanghabhedavastu, Skt. 1977). Its description of the separation of the sexes, for example, is found on p. 11, line 5 ff., which I quote and translate literally:

tatas teṣām indriya-nānātvaṃ prādurbhūtam | ekeṣāṃ strīndriyam ekeṣāṃ puruṣendriyam |

“Then, for them, difference of organs appeared. For some, female organs; for some, male organs.”

The Lokaprajñapti account, like the Yogācārabhūmi account, is based on Buddhist sūtras. The Lokaprajñapti, unlike the Yogācārabhūmi, gives at the end of each section a quotation from one particular sūtra that it drew upon for this section, and names this sūtra. For the cosmogony section, it quotes the gNas ’jog dang ba ra dva dza lung bstan pa, which would be in Sanskrit, Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This sūtra, as stated by Siglinde Deitz, corresponds to the Pali Aggañña-sutta from the Dīgha Nikāya. The Aggañña-sutta has long been known as the Buddhist “Book of Genesis,” since its 1921 publication in English translation by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids with this title (Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, pp. 77-94, attached: Agganna sutta, Eng. 1921). Its rather brief account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in its paragraphs 10 and 11. In paragraphs 12 and 13 people begin to eat and consequently their bodies become dense. In paragraph 16 the separation of the sexes occurs. This text provides us with an account in Pali (attached: Agganna sutta, Pali, 1889). Besides this and the Yogācārabhūmi and Saṅghabhedavastu accounts in Sanskrit, we have also a parallel account in the Mahāvastu. This large text is the major representative still extant that is written fully in what Franklin Edgerton calls “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit,” including even the prose, and not just the verses. Its account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in É. Senart’s Sanskrit edition, vol. 1, 1882, pp. 338-348 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Skt. 1882). In the English translation of this by J. J. Jones, this account is found in vol. 1, 1949, pp. 285-293 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Eng. 1949). There is also a parallel account in the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhaṅga. Its Sanskrit original has not yet been recovered. Its Tibetan translation (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Vinaya-vibhanga, Tib. Peking ed.) was used by Ernst Waldschmidt to restore a closely parallel fragment on cosmogony discovered in central Asia from an otherwise lost sūtra, possibly the Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This was published in Sanskrit and English in 1970 as, “Fragment of a Buddhist Sanskrit Text on Cosmogony” (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanskrit Fragment, Waldschmidt 1970).

As noted by Kajiyama (p. 183): “. . . the cosmology as presented in the Yogācārabhūmi shows a transmission different from that in the Abhidharmakośa. It gives many particular accounts which we do not find in the Abhidharmakośa, although the two are in general similar.” Likewise, the Yogācārabhūmi account differs from the account found in the Aggañña-sutta, the Saṅghabhedavastu, and the Mahāvastu. It gives a somewhat more detailed cosmogony, while those texts give a more detailed anthropogenesis. They have together preserved for us enough to form a skeleton view of what is given much more fully in the Book of Dzyan.


Grammatical notes:

First paragraph quoted above:

śayaṃ (in the sentence, uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca), in the Tibetan translation is gnas, and in Kajiyama’s English translation is “stretching itself.”

yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?), question mark by the editor, Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, for this whole phrase. In the Tibetan translation it is: des chu de dag thad kar yang mi ’bo la | thur du yang mi ’dzag go |

saṃmūrchayanti, second occurrence, is misprinted as saṃmūrchayāṃnta in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition. He notes that the manuscript has saṃkarchayanti, which he corrected to saṃmūrchayanti.

Please note that Kajiyama gives, preceding his translation, an important list of corrections to Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition of the Sanskrit text for this section. A major new study of the Yogācārabhūmi was published in 2013: The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 75. Martin Delhey in his contribution to this volume, p. 516 fn. 80, corrects one of Kajiyama’s corrections, saying that sa eca on p. 31, line 17, should be sa ca rather than sa eva as Kajiyama proposed.

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


The Universal Over-Soul

By Ingmar de Boer on October 5, 2013 at 10:13 am

The third fundamental proposition of the secret doctrine (SD
I, 17) postulates “the fundamental identity of all Souls
with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being an aspect
of the Unknown Root”. We might ask ourselves, what exactly
is this Over-Soul, and how can we relate it to other known
concepts in the philosopy of The Secret

1. The Over-Soul

The term Over-Soul refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay
The Over-soul, first published in 1841, in which he
describes the Over-soul as the source of higher inspiration in
man. From the essay:

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past
and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is
that great nature in which we rest as the earth lies in the soft
arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which
every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all
other; that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the
worship, to which all right action is submission; that
overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and
constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from
his character and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends
to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom and virtue
and power and beauty. We live in succession, in division, in
parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the
whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every
part and particle is equally related; the eternal

In the third fundamental proposition, it is stated that the
Universal Over-Soul is “an aspect of the Unknown
Root”. The Unknown Root is what we have identified with the
Absolute, or space, symbolised by the plane or circumference of
the circle, i.e. the circle without a central point, the
immaculate white disk from the archaic palmleaf manuscript
described in SD I, 1. An aspect of the Root will be one of three
aspects. On the same page the Universal Over-Soul is described as
the “pure Essence of the Universal Sixth
principle”, while the seventh principle is the Root
itself. The principles are counted here from “dense”
to “fine”. On page 19 this sixth principle is
identified with brahmā. On page 13 (footnote), a
fifth universal principle is mentioned, under the name of
āśa, “to which
corresponds and from which proceeds human Manas”.

2. The Universal Soul

The statements on the Universal Soul in The Secret
are very confusing, to say the least. In the third
fundamental proposition we find that the Over-Soul is the sixth
universal principle. In another location in the Proem, SD I, 9-10
we find:

The Occultist […] regards the Adi-Sakti
[…], in her A’kasic form of the Universal Soul — as
philosophically a Maya, and cause of human Maya. But this view
does not prevent him from believing in its existence so long as
it lasts, to wit, for one Mahamanvantara; nor from applying
Akasa, the radiation of Mulaprakriti,* to practical purposes,
connected as the World-Soul is with all natural phenomena, known
or unknown to science.

From this we can distill that the Universal Soul is not the
First unmanifested Logos, but the Second. In SD I, 420 we find a
more unequivocal statement on the Universal Soul:

UNIVERSAL SOUL is not the inert Cause of
Creation or (Para) Brahma, but simply that which we call the
sixth principle of intellectual Kosmos, on the manifested plane
of being. It is Mahat, or Mahabuddhi, the great Soul, the vehicle
of Spirit, the first primeval reflection of the formless CAUSE

It is clear from this quotation that the Universal Soul is
identical to the Second Logos, the sixth universal principle,
Mahat, the “Universal Mind”. This means that the
Universal Soul is none other than the “Universal
Over-Soul” of Emerson.

3. The Anima Mundi or World Soul

In SD I, 365 and the first footnote on that page, we find
evidence that this principle, which we call here the Second Logos
(here referred to as Brahma), is also identical with Anima Mundi
or the World Soul:

In the Hindu Katakopanishad, Purusha, the
divine spirit, already stands before the original matter, “from
whose union springs the great soul of the world,” Maha-Atma,
Brahma, the Spirit of Life,* etc., etc.**[…]

* The latter appellations are all identical
with Anima Mundi, or the “Universal Soul,” the astral light of
the Kabalist and the Occultist, or the “Egg of

Then in SD I, 49 (and other locations), we find the statement
that ālaya is the Universal Soul and Anima

In the Yogacharya system of the contemplative
Mahayana school, Alaya is both the Universal Soul (Anima Mundi)
and the Self of a progressed adept.

Whenever HPB uses ālaya, she refers to the Second Logos
(unless otherwise indicated), although on the same page (SD I,
49) she states that the word ālaya has “two or even
three meanings”. In our discussion on Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II
, we have argued
what the two or three meanings might be, namely the jāti,
pravṛtti and karman aspects of ālaya.

4. Corrections to Earlier Findings

So, we have to correct two errors in our earlier posts. Part
of the table in Ālaya in the
Laṅkāvatārasūtra Pt. II


Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, [Universal
Spiritual Soul]
, Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima

with the remark: “It may be noted that these conclusions
do not in every respect meet the ones from The Three
. The differences concern the terms Universal Soul and
Anima Mundi. It will be necessary to clear up these differences
in a later stage.” We know now, that this part of the table
should have looked like:

Aspect of ālaya 1. jāti 2. pravṛtti
Corresponds to remaining in its original nature evolving
Cosmic Universal Soul Mahat [called Maha-Buddhi], Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
Emerson’s Over-Soul, Anima Mundi

In the post entitled The Three Logoi (3), the Universal
Soul is categorized under the Third Logos, while it should have
been under the Second. The corrected text would

  • First Logos, the One, the Ever Unmanifest, represented by
    ūlaprakti, the Plotinic
    and Orphic Hen, Hyparxis, Universal Good, the Christian
    Father-aspect, Divine Will.
  • Second Logos, the manifested Logos, the Logos proper, the
    Verbum, the Plotinic Nous, the Demiurge, HPB’s Anima Mundi,
    Creative Intelligence, Mahat, Universal Mind, Universal Soul,
    Universal Intelligence, Divine Mind, Divine Wisdom, the
    Son-aspect, the Christ, Brahmā, Īśvara,
    Avalokiteśvara (manifested).
  • Third Logos, the Light of the Logos, Fohat,
    Daiviprakṛti, the Plotinic Psuchē, Universal Soul
    (the Plotinic Anima Mundi)
    , the Nous of Anaxagoras, Divine
    Activity, the Holy Ghost.

5. The Sacred Four

In stanza IV, śloka 5 (SD I, 98) the four highest
universal principles are described. Here, the seventh (first)
principle is called darkness, the sixth (second) adi-sanat, the
fifth (third) svâbhâvat, the fourth (fourth) the
formless square. The first three are “enclosed within the
boundless circle”, and together they are called the
sacred four or the tetraktis.

absolute - 8

In the following table, the four highest Universal
(“Cosmic”) principles are summarized, as described in
various sources.

Principle 7th 6th 5th 4th
Proem to the SD the ONE principle, the Absolute, THAT, Sat, Be-ness, SPACE,
the Root, Parabrahman, Brahman (neutrum)
Universal Over-Soul, Universal Soul,
SD I, 98 (st. IV śl. 5) darkness adi-sanat svâbhâvat formless square
SD II, 596 The Unmanfested Logos Universal (latent) Ideation Universal (or Cosmic) active Intelligence Cosmic (Chaotic) Energy
Cosmological Notes in BL p. 378; spelling cf.
Blavatsky’s Secret Books, p. 64
svayambhuva nārāyaṇa yajña vāc
snyugs dkon mchog nam ‘mkha (Skt. ākāśa) ‘od (Skt. prabhā, āloka)
Latent Spirit Ensoph Universal Mind Virāj, Universal Illusion Cosmic Will
Additional terms Mother-space, the Eternal Parent, Eternal Mother (1886 Ms),
First Logos
Second Logos Father-Mother, Fire-Mist  

Category: Alaya, Anima Mundi, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Darkness, Logos, Mahat, Rootless Root, Space, Svabhavat, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


On the Name “Book of Dzyan”

By David Reigle on September 21, 2013 at 11:43 pm

The evidence shows that: (1) “Book of Dzyan” is not the actual or proper name of the book in question; (2) of the two meanings given by Blavatsky, “dzyan” would be “wisdom/knowledge” rather than “meditation”; (3) therefore the “Book of Dzyan” is a generic name signifying only “Book of Wisdom” or “Book of Knowledge.”

1. That “Book of Dzyan” is not the actual or proper name can be seen from this quotation from The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. xxii): “The Book of Dzyan (or ‘Dzan’) is utterly unknown to our Philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name.”

2. Blavatsky gives two meanings for the word “dzyan.” The most well-known one is “meditation,” the meaning of the similar-looking Sanskrit word dhyāna. It is found in “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, 1897, p. 405; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 389; Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422):

“The Book of Dzyan—from the Sanskrit word “Dhyâna” (mystic meditation)— . . .”

The other meaning given for “dzyan” is “wisdom,” or “knowledge,” the meaning of the similar-sounding Sanskrit word jñāna. It is found in these places:

(a) Footnote to Book of Dzyan* in her French article, “Notes su «L’Ésotérisme du Dogme Chrétien» de M. l’Abbé Roca”; English translation, “Notes on Abbé Roca’s ‘Esotericism of Christian Dogma’” (Collected Writings, vol. 8, p. 361 fn.; p. 380 fn.):

“*Mot tibétain, du mot sanscrit djnyana: sagesse occulte, connaissance.”

“*A Tibetan word, the Sanskrit Jñâna, occult wisdom, knowledge.”

(b) In “‘Reincarnations’ of Buddha” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, 1897, p. 386; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 373; Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 400):

“. . . on the ‘Path of Dzyan’ (knowledge, wisdom).”

(c) In The Theosophical Glossary, under “Dzyn or Dzyan (Tib.). Written also Dzen.” (p. 107):

“A corruption of the Sanskrit Dhyan and Jnâna (or gnyâna phonetically)—Wisdom, divine knowledge.”

The last quotation, although defining dzyan as “wisdom” or “divine knowledge,” gives as equivalents both the Sanskrit words, dhyāna (meaning “meditation”) and jñāna. In another place, she combines their two meanings when giving the meaning of “dzyan” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 434):

“Says the Book of Dzyan (Knowledge through meditation)— . . .”

However, the word “dzyan” cannot be the Tibetan equivalent of both the Sanskrit dhyāna and jñāna. It must be one or the other. Fortunately, as noted in my 1983 book, The Books of Kiu-te (pp. 46-47), we do not have to guess about this. Since dhyāna is translated into Tibetan as bsam gtan, and jñāna is translated into Tibetan as ye śes, “dzyan” is not a translation; it is a transliteration. Which one is made clear by the fact that when transliterating Sanskrit words into Tibetan, the Tibetan translators always transliterated the Sanskrit letter “j” as the Tibetan letter “dz”, even though Tibetan has a letter “j” of its own. Thus, Sanskrit jñāna is transliterated into Tibetan as dzñāna.

Then, as is well known, the word jñāna is often pronounced gyana in India. Thus, for example, we find a book on Jñāna Yoga titled Gyana Yoga. The palatal “ñ”, a “nya” sound, disappears after the initial “j”, leaving a “y” sound. So phonetically, we now have dzyāna. Lastly, in North Indian pronunciation, a final short “a” is very frequently dropped. Thus, for example, the name Shiva Kumara is pronounced Shiv Kumar. So our dzyāna becomes dzyān. This is a reasonably good phonetic rendering of the Sanskrit word jñāna as transliterated into Tibetan letters, dznyāna, and then pronounced.

The meaning, too, can only be one or the other. As we saw, “wisdom” or knowledge” is given for “dzyan” by Blavatsky on three occasions. This is the meaning of jñāna. On one occasion she gives “meditation,” the meaning of dhyāna. In addition, she gives a combined definition, “Knowledge through meditation.” While jñāna no doubt most often arises through meditation, this is not part of its meaning. So where did Blavatsky get the meaning “meditation” for “dzyan”? Apparently from Rev. Joseph Edkins. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes (vol. 1, p. xx and footnote):

“Indeed, the secret portions of the ‘Danor Jan-na’* (‘Dhyan’) of Gautama’s metaphysics—grand as they appear to one unacquainted with the tenets of the Wisdom Religion of antiquity—are but a very small portion of the whole.”

“*Dan, now become in modern Chinese and Tibetan phonetics chan, is the general term for the esoteric schools, and their literature. In the old books, the word Janna is defined as ‘to reform one’s self by meditation and knowledge,’ a second inner birth. Hence Dzan, Djan phonetically, the ‘Book of Dzyan.’”

Compare Rev. Joseph Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, 1880 (p. 129, fn.):

“The word Ch’an (in old Chinese, jan and dan), originally signifying ‘resign,’ had not the meaning to ‘contemplate’ (now its commonest sense), before the Buddhists adopted it to represent the Sanscrit term Dhyana. The word in Chinese books is spelt in full jan-na, and is explained, ‘to reform one’s self by contemplation or quiet thought.’”

Rev. Edkins further writes about what he called the esoteric schools, and their founder Bodhidharma (pp. 155-156):

“He became the chief founder of the esoteric schools, which were divided into five principal branches. The common word for the esoteric schools is dan, the Sanscrit Dhyana, now called in the modern sound given to the character, ch’an.”

The Chinese word ch’an does indeed render the Sanskrit word dhyāna, “meditation,” and this became the name of the school that made meditation primary, the Ch’an school, which in turn became the Zen school in Japan. Rev. Edkins, writing with the scanty information available before 1880, for some reason called this school and its subdivisions the esoteric schools. This is apparently how Blavatsky associated the name dan with the esoteric schools, and equated it with “dzyan.” But as we have seen, the other information given by Blavatsky shows that “dzyan” is from jñāna, not dhyāna.

3. “Book of Dzyan,” then, is a generic name signifying only “Book of Wisdom” or “Book of Knowledge.”

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


On the Book of Dzyan

By David Reigle on September 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm

“Book of Dzyan” is the name given to a hitherto unknown book that is said to contain the secret wisdom of the world. It is supposed to have been written in Senzar, a lost sacred language that preceded Sanskrit. Stanzas on the genesis of the cosmos and the origin of humanity were allegedly translated from it to form the basis of H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine. Our only source of information about the “Book of Dzyan” is what Blavatsky wrote. The information she gives sometimes disagrees, so that it appears to describe two different books. In fact, she does speak of “Books of Dzyan” in the plural (e.g., SD, vol. 2, p. 46). It will be worthwhile to try to sort out this information.

The Secret Doctrine opens with a description of what is presumably the “Book of Dzyan” (volume 1, page 1):

“An Archaic Manuscript—a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process—is before the writer’s eye. On the first page is an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground. On the following page, the same disk, but with a central point. The first, the student knows to represent Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy, the emanation of the Word in later systems. The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg (see Part II., ‘The Mundane Egg’), the germ within the latter which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical Kosmos, this germ being latent and active, periodically and by turns. The one circle is divine Unity, from which all proceeds, whither all returns. Its circumference—a forcibly limited symbol, in view of the limitation of the human mind—indicates the abstract, ever incognisable PRESENCE, and its plane, the Universal Soul, although the two are one. Only the face of the Disk being white and the ground all around black, shows clearly that its plane is the only knowledge, dim and hazy though it still is, that is attainable by man. It is on this plane that the Manvantaric manifestations begin; for it is in this SOUL that slumbers, during the Pralaya, the Divine Thought, wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony and Theogony.”

Blavatsky goes on to describe further symbols, the disk with a diameter, and then with the diameter crossed by a vertical line, etc. (pp. 4-5):

“The first illustration being a plain disc [figure], the second one in the Archaic symbol shows [figure], a disc with a point in it—the first differentiation in the periodical manifestations of the ever-eternal nature, sexless and infinite ‘Aditi in THAT’ (Rig Veda), the point in the disc, or potential Space within abstract Space. In its third stage the point is transformed into a diameter, thus [figure]. It now symbolises a divine immaculate Mother-Nature within the all-embracing absolute Infinitude. When the diameter line is crossed by a vertical one [figure], it becomes the mundane cross. Humanity has reached its third root-race; it is the sign for the origin of human life to begin. When the circumference disappears and leaves only the [figure] it is a sign that the fall of man into matter is accomplished, and the FOURTH race begins. . . .”

Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, published eleven years earlier (1877), likewise opens with a description of what is presumably the “Book of Dzyan” (volume 1, page 1):

“There exists somewhere in this wide world an old Book—so very old that our modern antiquarians might ponder over its pages an indefinite time, and still not quite agree as to the nature of the fabric upon which it is written. It is the only original copy now in existence. The most ancient Hebrew document on occult learning—the Siphrah Dzeniouta—was compiled from it, and that at a time when the former was already considered in the light of a literary relic. One of its illustrations represents the Divine Essence emanating from Adam* like a luminous arc proceeding to form a circle; and then, having attained the highest point of its circumference, the ineffable Glory bends back again, and returns to earth, bringing a higher type of humanity in its vortex. As it approaches nearer and nearer to our planet, the Emanation becomes more and more shadowy, until upon touching the ground it is as black as night.”

*Corrected in Mahatma letter #9 to Adam emanating from the Divine Essence.

This paragraph from Isis Unveiled is quoted in the “Introductory” to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. xlii), introducing it with “Volume I. of ‘Isis’ begins with a reference to ‘an old book’—‘So very old that . . . .” The Secret Doctrine then continues (p. xliii):

“The ‘very old Book’ is the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled. Not only this latter and the Siphrah Dzeniouta but even the Sepher Jezirah, the work attributed by the Hebrew Kabalists to their Patriarch Abraham (!), the book of Shu-king, China’s primitive Bible, the sacred volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes, the Puranas in India, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch itself, are all derived from that one small parent volume. Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manushis, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races.”

The book that Blavatsky has so vividly described is clearly a book of pictorial symbols. She confirms this when describing the language that it is apparently written in (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 574):

“We have now to speak of the Mystery language, that of the prehistoric races. It is not a phonetic, but a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue. It is known at present in its fulness to the very few, having become with the masses for more than 5,000 years an absolutely dead language.”

We would naturally assume that this book of pictorial symbols is the “Book of Dzyan” from which she said she translated the stanzas that form the basis of The Secret Doctrine. But is it? Apparently not. We notice that nowhere in these descriptions has she called this picture book the “Book of Dzyan.” Elsewhere she provides the information that allows us to distinguish the two. This information is given in “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan,” a chapter that was originally intended by her to precede the stanzas in The Secret Doctrine, but upon the advice of the Keightleys was moved to volume 3 of that book. Volume 3 was not published until 1897, six years after her death, where this chapter is found on pp. 405-406. This chapter is now also found in her Collected Writings, vol. 14, pp. 422-424. It begins:

“The Book of Dzyan . . . is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers. Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed ‘The Popularised Version’ of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand—with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World—contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences.”

As may be seen, the book of pictorial symbols that she described would be what is here called “the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World.” This “one small archaic folio” is the “one small parent volume” (SD 1.xliii), the “Archaic Manuscript” (SD 1.1), the “old Book” (IU 1.1), the “very old Book . . . the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled” (SD 1.xliii), here further described as “the seven secret folios of Kiu-te.” The Book of Dzyan that she translated stanzas from is the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on this book of pictorial symbols, not the symbol book itself. This is, I think, clear. Yet her prominent descriptions of the book of pictorial symbols have made such an impression that most readers today regard this symbol book as the Book of Dzyan that she translated stanzas from. Since this is so widely accepted, it will be worthwhile to pursue this further, and to cite the evidence at some length.

In addition to her statement differentiating the two books, there is much evidence indicating that the Book of Dzyan from which she translated stanzas is a commentary written in phonetic language rather than in pictorial symbols. In brief, this evidence is: (1) Blavatsky refers several times to the words of the Book of Dzyan, phonetic words and names; (2) she says that she has tried to give a verbatim or word for word translation; and (3) she refers several times to verses and to specific numbers of verses in the original Book of Dzyan that she has omitted. These, of course, would be phonetic verses, consisting of phonetic words, not pictorial symbols. This evidence may be found in The Secret Doctrine itself, and was fully confirmed in The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions, first published in 2010. Before citing this evidence, we must take note of Blavatsky’s statements showing Senzar as a phonetic language, and not just a language of pictorial symbols.

Contrasting her statement quoted above that the Mystery language “is not a phonetic, but a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue,” she tells us in her Notes on the Esoteric Papers that Senzar has an alphabet consisting of letters, obviously phonetic letters: “The Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets, and other Occult tongues, besides other potencies, have a number, colour, and distinct syllable for every letter, . . .” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 3, p. 530; Adyar edition, vol. 5, p. 505). In describing the development of language, she tells us that what is “now the mystery tongue of the Initiates” is “the inflectional speech,” which was the first language of the fifth root-race (SD 2.200). It was preceded by the monosyllabic speech that arose at the close of the third root-race, and the agglutinative languages that developed in the fourth root-race (2.198-199). The inflectional speech is, of course, phonetic language, language that had developed past the monosyllable stage, and past the stage of agglutinating or putting monosyllables together to form words, to the stage wherein the words themselves undergo change in order to give grammatical information. This is usually done by the addition of inflectional endings, namely, verb conjugations and noun declensions. Thus Senzar is not only a language of pictorial symbols but also a developed phonetic language. We may now proceed to the quotations.


1. References to words and names in the Book of Dzyan:

SD 1.22-23: “. . . the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words.” (in full: “The Stanzas which form the thesis of every section are given throughout in their modern translated version, as it would be worse than useless to make the subject still more difficult by introducing the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words.”)

SD 1.23: “. . . using the Sanskrit and Tibetan proper names whenever those cannot be avoided, in preference to giving the originals. The more so as the said terms are all accepted synonyms, . . .” (followed by: “Thus, were one to translate into English, using only the substantives and technical terms as employed in one of the Tibetan and Senzar versions, Verse I would read as follows: — ‘Tho-ag in Zhi-gyu slept seven Khorlo. Zodmanas zhiba. All Nyug bosom. Konch-hog not; Thyan-Kam not; Lha-Chohan not; Tenbrel Chugnyi not; Dharmakaya ceased; Tgenchang not become; Barnang and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna), &c., &c.,’ which would sound like pure Abracadabra.”)

SD 1.23: “The untranslateable terms alone, incomprehensible unless explained in their meanings, are left, but all such terms are rendered in their Sanskrit form.” (followed by: “Needless to remind the reader that these are, in almost every case, the late developments of the later language, and pertain to the Fifth Root-Race. Sanskrit, as now known, was not spoken by the Atlanteans, and most of the philosophical terms used in the systems of the India of the post-Mahabharatan period are not found in the Vedas, nor are they to be met with in the original Stanzas, but only their equivalents.”)

SD 1.32 fn.: “Verse 1 of Stanza VI. is of a far later date than the other Stanzas, though still very ancient. The old text of this verse, having names entirely unknown to the Orientalists would give no clue to the student.”

SD 1.237 fn.: “Useless to repeat again that the terms given here are Sanskrit translations; for the original terms, unknown and unheard of in Europe, would only puzzle the reader more, and serve no useful purpose.”

SD 1.471: “Of course the name given in the archaic volume of the Stanzas is quite different, . . .”

SD 1.478: “A great number of names referring to chemical substances and other compounds, which have now ceased to combine together, and are therefore unknown to the later offshoots of our Fifth Race, occupy a considerable space. As they are simply untranslateable, and would remain in every case inexplicable, they are omitted, along with those which cannot be made public.”

SD 2.34 fn.: “The term Pitris is used by us in these Slokas to facilitate their comprehension, but it is not so used in the original Stanzas, where they have distinct appellations of their own, besides being called ‘Fathers’ and ‘Progenitors.’”

SD 2.401 fn.: “For the Stanzas call this locality by a term translated in the commentary as a place of no latitude (niraksha) the abode of the gods.”


2. Statements by Blavatsky that she is translating verbatim or word for word:

SD 2.1: “As far as possible a verbatim translation is given; . . .” (in full: “The Stanzas, with the Commentaries thereon, in this Book, the second, are drawn from the same Archaic Records as the Stanzas on Cosmogony in Book I. As far as possible a verbatim translation is given; but some of the Stanzas were too obscure to be understood without explanation. Hence, as was done in Book I., while they are first given in full as they stand, when taken verse by verse with their Commentaries an attempt is made to make them clearer, by words added in brackets, in anticipation of the fuller explanation of the Commentary.”)

SD 2.15 fn.: “Not every verse is translated verbatim. A periphrasis is sometimes used for the sake of clearness and intelligibility, where a literal translation would be quite unintelligible.”

SD Comm. pp. 30-31: “I cannot go and invent things; I am obliged to translate just as the stanzas give it in the book.”

SD Comm. p. 31: “How can I put that it was not? I am obliged to translate as it is, and then to give all the commentaries. I didn’t invent them. If I were inventing it, I might put it otherwise.”

SD Comm. p. 33: “I cannot put things out of my own head; I just translate as it is.”

SD Comm. p. 141: “I limit myself to that in the commentaries. Not in the stanzas, because I have rendered them just as they are.”

SD Comm. p. 203: “These are the words, I do not know how to translate better— . . .” (the 2013 online edition has “no” for “know,” p. 195; the 2010 edition omits this word)

SD Comm. p. 233: “I tried to translate as well as I could, you know, as close to the original as possible.”

SD Comm. p. 278: “It is translated word for word, this, and it is all certainly figurative, and metaphorical, and so on, therefore you must not take in the literal sense everything; because you must allow something for the Eastern way of expressing it.”

SD Comm. p. 279: “I try to translate word for word.”

SD Comm. p. 301: “You must make some allowance for the Eastern mode of expression. I tell you I have been translating word for word.”

SD Comm. p. 325: “. . . (why it should be weight, I do not know; I simply translate you what is said in the occult books), . . .”


3. References to verses and to specific numbers of verses omitted:

SD 1.152: “Among the eleven Stanzas omitted . . . .”

SD 1.478: “A gap of 43 verses or Slokas has to be left between the 7th (already given) and the 51st, which is the subject of Book II., though the latter are made to run from 1 et seq. for easier reading and reference.”

SD 2.15 fn.: “Only forty-nine Slokas out of several hundred are here given.”

SD 2.46: “Thus the only reference to it is contained in one verse of the volume of the Book of Dzyan before us, where it says: . . .”

SD Comm. pp. 33-34: “There are many, many verses that come between, that I have left out altogether.”

SD Comm. p. 38: “I have just taken two or three just to show the general idea, and then skipped over whole stanzas and came to the point. I have said there are some 60 stanzas passed over.”

SD Comm. p. 114: “There are breaks of forty stanzas, and there are stanzas that I would not be permitted to give.”

SD Comm. p. 141: “. . . after that, where I come and say that so many stanzas are left out, then it begins with the solar system.” (apparently referring to SD 1.151-152: “With these verses—the 4th Sloka of Stanza VI.—ends that portion of the Stanzas which relates to the Universal Cosmogony after the last Mahapralaya or Universal destruction, . . . All the Stanzas and verses which follow in this Book I. refer only to the evolution of, and on, our Earth. . . . Among the eleven Stanzas omitted . . . .”)

SD Comm. p. 342: “But you forget I have been skipping an innumerable number of times not only lines, but whole stanzas.”

Category: Book of Dzyan | No comments yet


Senzar: A Lost Sacred Language

By David Reigle on September 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Senzar is the name given to a sacred language that is now lost from public view and has become secret. Our only source on this language is the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. According to her, Senzar is the language in which the “Book of Dzyan” was recorded, from which she translated the stanzas that form the basis of her book, The Secret Doctrine. It is there described as a pictorial language of symbols, and this is how it has come to be thought of among students of Theosophy. However, in some places she also described Senzar as a phonetic language. With the publication in 2010 of The Secret Doctrine Commentaries that Blavatsky had given in 1889, but that had remained unknown for 120 years, no doubt could any longer remain. The stanzas she translated were from the phonetic form of Senzar, not the pictorial form. The idea that Senzar is solely a pictorial symbol language has hindered research on it for all these years. Once we begin looking for its phonetic form, we find clear evidence for the existence of this lost sacred language.

The “Archaic Manuscript” written in symbols that Blavatsky vividly describes at the beginning of the The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 1-5) is not the “Book of Dzyan” that she translated stanzas from. She makes this clear in another place, referring to the “one small archaic folio” as “the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World,” and describing the “Book of Dzyan” as the first of fourteen volumes of commentaries on it (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422). That these fourteen volumes of commentaries are written in a phonetic form of Senzar rather than in pictorial symbols could be deduced from Blavatsky’s statements made in 1888 in The Secret Doctrine, and this was confirmed in The Secret Doctrine Commentaries published in 2010. She refers several times to the words of the “Book of Dzyan,” phonetic words; says that she has tried to give a verbatim or word for word translation; and refers several times to specific numbers of verses in the original “Book of Dzyan” that she has omitted. These, of course, would be phonetic verses, consisting of phonetic words, not pictorial symbols.

According to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 200), the first language of the fifth root-race was the inflectional speech, and this is “now the mystery tongue of the Initiates,” i.e., Senzar. It is there described as “the root of the Sanskrit, very erroneously called ‘the elder sister’ of the Greek, instead of its mother.” In her 1877 book, Isis Unveiled (vol. 1, p. 440), Blavatsky had described Senzar as “ancient Sanskrit.” It was described by “a Chela” in 1883 as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” adding that “the sacerdotal speech of the initiated Brahmin, became in time the mystery language of the inner temple, studied by the Initiates of Egypt and Chaldea; of the Phoenicians and the Etruscans; of the Pelasgi and Palanquans, in short, of the whole globe” (“Was Writing Known before Panini?,” The Theosophist, vol. 5, 1883, p. 18, reprinted in Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 5, p. 298). We thus learn that Senzar was an inflectional language, described as “ancient Sanskrit,” as “the root of the Sanskrit,” and as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” and that it was once in use as a sacred language across the whole globe.

The linguistic term “inflectional” describes languages whose words undergo change in order to give grammatical information, usually by way of inflectional endings (verb conjugations and noun declensions). These inflectional endings characterize the languages that comprise what is today known as the Indo-European language family. This family includes the ancient languages Sanskrit, Avesta, Greek, Latin, etc., and the modern languages that descended from them, Hindi, French, German, English, etc. The ancient Indo-European languages are thought to have all descended from a hypothetical Proto-Indo-European in the even more ancient past. This matches the teaching of The Secret Doctrine that the inflectional speech was the first language of the fifth root-race. Phonetic Senzar, then, would be a sacred form of what is today called Proto-Indo-European. While there is much evidence for the existence of Proto-Indo-European, is there any evidence for a sacred form of it?

Of course, the most well-attested and well-preserved ancient Indo-European language is Vedic Sanskrit, which is indeed a sacred language. Its sister language Avesta is also well-attested, again by way of a body of sacred writings. But is there any remnant or trace of a language that would be “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” as Senzar is said to be? According to Indian tradition, the Vedas were seen or heard by ancient seers, and have been preserved unchanged since then. They did not develop from anything. They had no progenitor. Such is the traditional view. An unexpected fact, however, has long been noticed. We find that many Vedic verses are repeated in the various Vedic texts, and sometimes they show variations that cannot be attributed to scribal error. Maurice Bloomfield in his 1906 Vedic Concordance presented a complete “index to every line of every stanza of the [then] published Vedic literature.” Of its about 90,000 entries, about one-third occur more than once. Of these roughly 30,000 repeated verse lines, about one-third show variants. So of about 90,000 verse lines, about 10,000 show variants. These were studied in three volumes of Vedic Variants, 1930-1934. One in nine is a lot of variants, far more than would be expected if the Vedic verses in fact had no predecessor or progenitor.

Even more disturbing to the traditional view is the finding of Prakritisms in the Ṛgveda. The Ṛgveda is the oldest, most sacred, and most perfectly preserved of the Vedas. Its language should consist entirely of sacred Sanskrit; there should be no trace of any vernacular Prakrit in it. Yet this is what modern research is finding (e.g., “Prakritism in the Ṛgveda,” by G. V. Devasthali, 1970; “About the Traces of a Prakrit Dialectal Basis in the Language of the Ṛgveda,” by T. Y. Elizarenkova, 1989; “Prakritic Wordforms in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā,” by Chlodwig H. Werba, 1992). What does this mean? First we saw clear evidence that the Vedas have predecessors or progenitors (as would be assumed by the modern linguistic theory of a Proto-Indo-European). There must have once been many more Vedic texts than are now preserved. Then, at least some of these would have been in a Prakrit or included Prakrit words, phrases, and idioms. If the Prakrit languages developed only later than Vedic Sanskrit, as has been generally assumed, it would be hard to explain the presence of Prakritisms in the Ṛgveda. The Ṛgveda has been preserved with such scrupulous accuracy that these Prakritisms are unlikely to be later modifications introduced into it, but rather were there all along.

The Prakrits are mostly thought of as vernacular or everyday languages, in contradistinction to sacred languages. There are, however, two major exceptions. The sacred canon of the Śvetāmbara Jainas is written in the Ardha-Māgadhī variety of Prakrit, and the sacred canon of the Theravāda Buddhists is written in Pali, which can linguistically be considered a variety of Prakrit. The general idea is that these are vernaculars that came to be thought of as sacred languages because the sacred books of these two traditions have come down to us in these languages. Buddhists say that the Buddha Gautama purposely taught in the vernacular language of his time and place, rather than in the sacred Sanskrit language, so that the people could understand him (e.g., Cullavagga 5.33). Śvetāmbara Jainas say that the Jina Mahāvīra taught in Ardha-Māgadhī, which was the vernacular of his time and place. It was, however, understood by the various hearers in their own language (Aupapātika-sūtra 56). Digambara Jainas say that the Jina taught using the “divine sound” (divya-dhvani), and that his gaṇadharas, his close disciples who could understand this, translated it into the vernacular of their time and place. Thus we have sacred canons written in vernacular languages that became sacred languages. In both traditions, however, there is an alternate view.

Some Buddhist and Jaina writers held that Prakrit is the original language, and that Sanskrit came from it, not vice versa. The information and sources on this were summarized in a 1993 article by Johannes Bronkhorst. He writes: “Māgadhī, we read in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, is the original language (mūlabhāsā) of all living beings, . . .” (p. 398). Māgadhī is held to be Pali by the Buddhist commentators, the language of the canon, and this is a Prakritic language. A later Buddhist writer says that “all other languages are derived from Māgadhī,” including Sanskrit (p. 399). Some Jaina writers have likewise held that their sacred language, the Ardha-Māgadhī variety of Prakrit, is the original language, and that Sanskrit comes from it (pp. 399-401). Even the Hindu writer Bhartṛhari, after noting in his Vākyapadīya that the divine language Sanskrit has been corrupted by incompetent speakers, tells us that the upholders of impermanence (apparently Buddhists) say the opposite (p. 406). That is, according to the ancient vṛtti thereon, Prakrit is the correct language and it has been altered to become Sanskrit (p. 407). Bronkhorst’s article is suggestively titled “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit – the original language,” although he did not actually make this claim. We now continue with this intriguing topic.

Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is a name coined by Franklin Edgerton to describe the language of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. These Sanskrit texts, which include the Mahāyāna Buddhist texts, form a Buddhist canon distinct from the Pali Buddhist canon. In a 1936 article, “The Prakrit Underlying Buddhistic Hybrid Sanskrit,” Edgerton postulated a “protocanonical Prakrit” on which Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit was based. He analyzed the language of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts to determine which features distinguish it from Classical Sanskrit. He spent the rest of his life studying and describing these distinguishing features, culminating in his monumental Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary, 2 volumes, 1953. These Prakrit features that distinguish Buddhist Sanskrit from Classical Sanskrit also distinguish it from any other specific Prakrit known, including Pali (1936, pp. 509, 516). Therefore he had to postulate an earlier Prakritic language that both Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and Pali were based on. There must have existed a considerable body of canonical or sacred texts in this Prakrit (p. 502). He called this Prakrit “protocanonical”; “proto” in that it is a hypothetical language, and “canonical” specifying its use in sacred texts. So here we have a sacred form of Proto-Indo-European, perhaps the very one we were looking for.

The Prakritisms found in Vedic Sanskrit now take on a new significance for us. The possible relationship between these Prakritisms and the protocanonical Prakrit behind Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit has not yet been explored, no doubt because the Vedas are considered much older than the time of the Buddha. Theosophy, however, accepts the traditions of previous Buddhas, and therefore of a previous canon of Buddhist texts. These Prakritisms aside, Sukumar Sen noticed long ago an important fact regarding similarities between the syntax of Buddhist Sanskrit and Vedic Sanskrit, which he calls Old Indo-Aryan. In his 1928 article, “An Outline Syntax of Buddhistic Sanskrit: Being a Contribution to the Historical Syntax of Indo-Aryan,” he writes (pp. 1-2): “The third division is the Buddhistic Sanskrit properly called. It is generally known as the ‘Gāthā language,’ or as ‘Mixed Sanskrit.’ Its philological importance is of the utmost. From the syntactical point it is doubly interesting, as it retains much of the remnant of Old Indo-Aryan idioms which were lost in the classical Sanskrit, . . .” Edgerton did not deal with syntax in his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar, and this important observation of Sen’s also remains to be fully explored (Elizarenkova devotes pp. 14-16 of her above-mentioned article to syntax).

The possible relationship between a progenitor of Vedic Sanskrit and the protocanonical Prakrit behind Buddhist Sanskrit is not the only evidence we have among the Hindu Sanskrit texts. Before Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit was labeled as such and studied, F. E. Pargiter had made a very detailed study of The Purāna Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age (1913). He found clear evidence that in the oldest Purāṇas the verses had been Sanskritized from an earlier Prakrit. This is exactly what Edgerton later found in the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. Further, Pargiter described this Prakrit as “a literary language not far removed from Sanskrit” (p. xi). Similarly, Edgerton found that the Sanskrit Buddhist texts were not just translations or re-workings of Pali originals (as some writers had supposed, p. 502), because the Sanskrit elements in them were as original as the Prakrit elements (pp. 508-509). The protocanonical Prakrit behind the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit texts and the old literary Prakrit behind the oldest Hindu Purāṇas, the one we are looking for, would not be a Prakrit that descended from Sanskrit, i.e., not a Middle Indo-Aryan language that descended from Old Indo-Aryan as are the Prakrits now known. It would be an earlier proto-Sanskrit that had some of the features now found or retained only in the Prakrits, features that were removed from this proto-Sanskrit when it became Sanskrit, “refined,” “polished,” “perfected.”

We have now seen clear evidence for the existence of a lost sacred language that we may call Senzar. When Senzar is regarded solely as a pictorial symbol language, there is not much to find. When we look for a phonetic form of Senzar that is a precursor to Sanskrit, an inflectional language described as “ancient Sanskrit,” as “the root of the Sanskrit,” and as “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit,” there is much to find. We then find that what is apparently just such a language has left major traces in the Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Its features that differ from Classical Sanskrit have been analyzed by Franklin Edgerton and described at length in his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary. To explain the observed evidence, Edgerton postulated a protocanonical Prakrit predecessor of both the Sanskrit and Pali of the Buddhist canons, that would also be close to the Ardha-Māgadhī of the Jaina canon. Such a language has left similar traces in the oldest Hindu Purāṇas. It has apparently even left traces in the ancient and sacrosanct Vedic texts. It would be a sacred form of Proto-Indo-European, just what we would expect a phonetic form of Senzar to be.

Category: Senzar | 1 comment


The Three Svabhāvas in The Secret Doctrine

By Ingmar de Boer on September 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Central to the ontology of the Yogācāra school of thought, is the philosophy of the three svabhāvas. One of the terms used in HPB’s rendering of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan referring implicitly to the Yogācāra school, is pariniṣpanna, in stanza 1 śloka 6 and in stanza 2 śloka 1 respectively, which is one of these three. All three svabhāvas are discussed in HPB’s commentary to stanza 1 śloka 9. The page numbers of all locations, all in SD I, are:

pariniṣpanna absolute existence 23, 42 (27), 42, 48, 53 (28) and 54
paratantra dependent existence 48 (2x) and 49
parikalpita imaginary existence 48 (2x)

In SD I, 42 a mystery is presented to the reader:

Up to the day of the Yogacharya school the true nature of Paranirvana was taught publicly, but since then it has become entirely esoteric; hence so many contradictory interpretations of it. It is only a true Idealist who can understand it. Everything has to be viewed as ideal, with the exception of Paranirvana, by him who would comprehend that state, and acquire a knowledge of how Non Ego, Voidness, and Darkness are Three in One and alone Self-existent and perfect.

What exactly are these “Three in One, Self-existent [sva-bhāva] and perfect”, or Non Ego, Voidness and Darkness?

Non Ego

Non Ego, the first of the Three in One, is described by HPB in SD I, 48 as parikalpita, imaginary existence:

Parikalpita (in Tibetan Kun-ttag) is error, made by those unable to realize the emptiness and illusionary nature of all; who believe something to exist which does not — e.g., the Non-Ego.

Non Ego could be HPB’s rendering of the Buddhist term anātman.


Voidness, the second of the Three in One, is described as personified by ālaya, according to the yogācāra’s, in SD I, 48:

Thus, while the Yogacharyas (of the Mahayana school) say that Alaya is the personification of the Voidness, and yet Alaya (Nyingpo and Tsang in Tibetan) is the basis of every visible and invisible thing, and that, though it is eternal and immutable in its essence, it reflects itself in every object of the Universe “like the moon in clear tranquil water”; other schools dispute the statement.

In part II of the article Ālaya in the Lakāvatārasūtra, we have argued that ālaya might be viewed as tri-une, in HPB’s words having two “Manvantaric” aspects and one “Non-Manvantaric”. In its Non-Manvantaric aspect it is “eternal and immutable in its essence”. In (one of) its Manvantaric aspects it would be the personification of Voidness which is the ultimate “basis of every visible and invisible thing”, having a “dependent or causal connection” with “every visible and invisible thing”. On paratantra, dependent existence, we find in SD I, 48:

And Paratantra is that, whatever it is, which exists only through a dependent or causal connexion, and which has to disappear as soon as the cause from which it proceeds is removed — e.g., the light of a wick. Destroy or extinguish it, and light disappears.

Undoubtedly, Voidness is a rendering of the Mahāyāna term śūnyatā, which is voidness, or emptyness.


Darkness, the third of the Three in One, is a term used in the Book of Dzyan in relation to pariniṣpanna. When the universe is in the state of pralaya, all that “was” or “will be” can be thought of as being in darkness. In SD I, 28 for example, the builders are said to be in darkness, which is (their) pariniṣpanna:


In SD I, 53, HPB identifies parinirvana with pariniṣpanna, absolute existence:

Paranishpanna, remember, is the summum bonum, the Absolute, hence the same as Paranirvana.

This points to a relation to the whole “Three in One” of SD I, 42, or SPACE, which is the First (unmanifested) Logos, which is forever in the state of pariniṣpanna.


The solution of the mystery of SD I, 42 would then be:

Non-ego anātman parikalpita
Voidness śūnyatā paratantra
Darkness   pariniṣpanna

Category: Darkness, Paratantra, Parikalpita, Parinirvana, Parinishpanna, Yogacara | 1 comment

Back to top